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Environ Microbiol. 2007 Feb;9(2):393-402.

Ultrastructure of coccoid viable but non-culturable Vibrio cholerae.

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Center of Marine Biotechnology, Columbus Center, University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute, 701 E. Pratt St., Suite 236, Baltimore, MD 21202, USA.


Morphology of viable but non-culturable Vibrio cholerae was monitored for 2 years by scanning and transmission electron microscopy. Morphological changes included very small coccoid forms, after extended incubation at 4 degrees C and room temperature, and sequential transformation from curved rods to irregular (approximately 1 microm) rods to approximately 0.8 microm coccoid cells and, ultimately, to tiny coccoid forms (0.07-0.4 microm). Irregular rod-shaped and coccoid cells were equally distributed in microcosms during the first 30-60 days of incubation at both temperatures, but only coccoid cells were observed after incubation for 60 days at 4 degrees C. When V. cholerae O1 and O139, maintained for 30-60 days at both temperatures, were heated to 45 degrees C for 60 s, after serial passage through 0.45 microm and 0.1 microm filters, and plating on Luria-Bertania (LB) agar, only cells larger than 1 microm yielded colonies on LB agar. Approximately 0.1% of heat-treated cultures were culturable. Cell division in the smallest coccoid cells was observed, yielding daughter cells of equal size, whereas other coccoid cells revealed bleb-like, cell wall evagination, followed by transfer of nuclear material. Coccoid cells of V. cholerae O1 and O139 incubated at 4 degrees C for more than 1 year remained substrate responsive and antigenic.

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