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FEMS Microbiol Rev. 2000 Oct;24(4):429-48.

Current and future applications of flow cytometry in aquatic microbiology.

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Departament de Microbiologia, Universitat de Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain.


Flow cytometry has become a valuable tool in aquatic and environmental microbiology that combines direct and rapid assays to determine numbers, cell size distribution and additional biochemical and physiological characteristics of individual cells, revealing the heterogeneity present in a population or community. Flow cytometry exhibits three unique technical properties of high potential to study the microbiology of aquatic systems: (i) its tremendous velocity to obtain and process data; (ii) the sorting capacity of some cytometers, which allows the transfer of specific populations or even single cells to a determined location, thus allowing further physical, chemical, biological or molecular analysis; and (iii) high-speed multiparametric data acquisition and multivariate data analysis. Flow cytometry is now commonly used in aquatic microbiology, although the application of cell sorting to microbial ecology and quantification of heterotrophic nanoflagellates and viruses is still under development. The recent development of laser scanning cytometry also provides a new way to further analyse sorted cells or cells recovered on filter membranes or slides. The main infrastructure limitations of flow cytometry are: cost, need for skilled and well-trained operators, and adequate refrigeration systems for high-powered lasers and cell sorters. The selection and obtaining of the optimal fluorochromes, control microorganisms and validations for a specific application may sometimes be difficult to accomplish.

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