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FEMS Microbiol Ecol. 2004 Dec 27;51(1):123-32.

Monitoring physiological status of GFP-tagged Pseudomonas fluorescens SBW25 under different nutrient conditions and in soil by flow cytometry.

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Section for Natural Sciences, Södertörn University College, Huddinge, Sweden.


Pseudomonas fluorescens SBW25, a plant growth promoting bacterium, has been widely studied due to its potential as an inoculum for improving crop yields. Environmental inoculants are usually applied on seeds or directly to soil and to effectively promote plant growth they need to be viable and active. However, it is difficult to study the physiological status of specific microorganisms in complex environments, such as soil. In this study, our aim was to use molecular tools to specifically monitor the physiological status of P. fluorescens SBW25 in soil and in pure cultures incubated under different nutritional conditions. The cells were previously tagged with marker genes (encoding green fluorescent protein and bacterial luciferase) to specifically track the cells in environmental samples. The physiological status of the cells was determined using the viability stains 5-cyano-2,3-ditolyl-tetrazolium chloride (CTC) and propidium iodide (PI), which stain active and dead cells, respectively. Luciferase activity was used to monitor the metabolic activity of the population. Most of the cells died after incubation for nine days in nutrient rich medium. By contrast when incubated under starvation conditions, most of the population was not stained with CTC or PI (i.e. intact but inactive cells), indicating that most of the cells were presumably dormant. In soil, a large fraction of the SBW25 cell population became inactive and died, as determined by a decline in luciferase activity and CTC-stained cells, an increase in PI-stained cells, and an inability of the cells to be cultured on agar medium. However, approximately 60% of the population was unstained, presumably indicating that the cells entered a state of dormancy in soil similar to that observed under starvation conditions in pure cultures. These results demonstrate the applicability of this approach for monitoring the physiological status of specific cells under stress conditions, such as those experienced by environmental inoculants in soil.

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