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Anal Chem. 2012 Feb 7;84(3):1526-32. doi: 10.1021/ac2031332. Epub 2012 Jan 6.

Detection and quantification of bacterial autofluorescence at the single-cell level by a laboratory-built high-sensitivity flow cytometer.

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  • 1The Key Laboratory of Analytical Science, Department of Chemical Biology, College of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, Xiamen University, Xiamen Fujian 361005, China.


Cellular autofluorescence can affect the sensitivity of fluorescence microscopic or flow cytometric assays by interfering with or even precluding the detection of low-level specific fluorescence. Here we developed a method to detect and quantify bacterial autofluorescence in the green region of the spectrum at the single-cell level using a laboratory-built high-sensitivity flow cytometer (HSFCM). The detection of the very weak bacterial autofluorescence was confirmed by analyzing polystyrene beads of comparable and larger size than bacteria in parallel. Dithionite reduction and air re-exposure experiments verified that the green autofluorescence mainly originates from endogenous flavins. Bacterial autofluorescence was quantified by calibrating the fluorescence intensity of nanospheres with known FITC equivalents, and autofluorescence distribution was generated by analyzing thousands of bacterial cells in 1 min. Among the eight bacterial strains tested, it was found that bacterial autofluorescence can vary from 80 to 1400 FITC equivalents per cell, depending on the bacterial species, and a relatively large cell-to-cell variation in autofluorescence intensity was observed. Quantitative measurements of bacterial autofluorescence provide a reference for the background signals that can be expected with bacteria, which is important in guiding studies of low-level gene expression and for the detection of low-abundance biological molecules in individual bacterial cells. This paper presents the first quantification of bacterial autofluorescence in FITC equivalents.

© 2012 American Chemical Society

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