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FEMS Microbiol Ecol. 2001 Apr;35(2):171-179.

Are the actively respiring cells (CTC+) those responsible for bacterial production in aquatic environments?

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Laboratoire Arago UPMC, BP 44, F-66651 Cedex, Banyuls-sur-Mer, France


The 5-cyano-2,3-ditolyl tetrazolium chloride (CTC) staining method is commonly and increasingly used to detect and to enumerate actively respiring cells (CTC+ cells) in aquatic systems. However, this method remains controversial since some authors promote this technique while others pointed out several drawbacks of the method. Using flow cytometry (FCM), we showed that CTC staining kinetics vary greatly from one sample to another. Therefore, there is no universal staining protocol that can be applied to aquatic bacterial communities. Furthermore, using (3)H-leucine incorporation, it was shown that the CTC dye has a rapid toxic effect on bacterial cells by inhibiting protein synthesis, a key physiological function. The coupling of radioactive labelling with cell sorting by FCM suggested that CTC+ cells contribute to less than 60% of the whole bacterial activity determined at the community level. From these results, it is clearly demonstrated that the CTC method is not valid to detect active bacteria, i.e. cells responsible for bacterial production.

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