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Appl Environ Microbiol. 1997 Nov;63(11):4164-70.

Isolation of new bacterial species from drinking water biofilms and proof of their in situ dominance with highly specific 16S rRNA probes.

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  • 1Fachgebiet Okologie der Mikroorganismen, Institut für Technischen Umweltschutz, Technische Universität Berlin, Germany.


A polyphasic approach involving cultivation, direct viable counts, rRNA-based phylogenetic classification, and in situ probing was applied for the characterization of the dominant microbial population in a municipal drinking water distribution system. A total of 234 bacterial strains cultivated on R2A medium were screened for bacteria affiliated with the in situ dominating beta subclass of Proteobacteria. The isolates were grouped according to common features of their cell and colony morphologies, and eight representative strains were used for 16S rRNA sequencing and the development of a suite of strain-specific oligonucleotide probes. Phylogenetic analysis indicated that all of the isolates were hitherto unknown bacteria. Three of them, strains B4, B6, and B8, formed a separate cluster of closely related organisms within the beta 1 subclass of Proteobacteria. In situ probing revealed that (i) 67 to 72% of total bacteria, corresponding to more than 80% of beta-subclass bacteria, could be encompassed with the strain-specific probes and (ii) the dominating bacterial species were culturable on R2A medium. Additionally, two-thirds of the autochthonous drinking water population could be shown to be in a viable but nonculturable (VBNC) state by using a direct viable count approach. The comparison of isolation frequencies with the in situ abundances of the eight investigated strains revealed differences in their culturability, indicating variable ratios of culturable to VBNC cells among the strains. The further characterization of biofilms throughout the distribution network demonstrated strains B6 and B8 to be dominant bacterial strains in groundwater and distribution system biofilms. The other strains could be found at various frequencies in the different parts of the distribution system; several strains appeared exclusively in drinking water biofilms obtained from a house installation system.

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