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Appl Environ Microbiol. 2007 Aug;73(15):4922-30. Epub 2007 Jun 1.

Toward automated analysis of biofilm architecture: bias caused by extraneous confocal laser scanning microscopy images.

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Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of California, Davis, Davis, CA 95616, USA.


An increasing number of studies utilize confocal laser scanning microscopy (CLSM) for in situ visualization of biofilms and rely on the use of image analysis programs to extract quantitative descriptors of architecture. Recently, designed programs have begun incorporating procedures to automatically determine threshold values for three-dimensional CLSM image stacks. We have found that the automated threshold calculation is biased when a stack contains images lacking pixels of biological significance. Consequently, we have created the novel program Auto PHLIP-ML to resolve this bias by iteratively excluding extraneous images based on their area coverage of biomass. A procedure was developed to identify the optimal percent area coverage value used for extraneous image removal (PACVEIR). The optimal PACVEIR was defined to occur when the standard deviation of mean thickness, determined from replicate image stacks, was at a maximum, because it more accurately reflected inherent structural variation. Ten monoculture biofilms of either Ralstonia eutropha JMP228n::gfp or Acinetobacter sp. strain BD413 were tested to verify the routine. All biofilms exhibited an optimal PACVEIR between 0 and 1%. Prior to the exclusion of extraneous images, JMP228n::gfp appeared to develop more homogeneous biofilms than BD413. However, after the removal of extraneous images, JMP228n::gfp biofilms were found to form more heterogeneous biofilms. Similarly, JMP228n::gfp biofilms grown on glass surfaces vis-à-vis polyethylene membranes produced significantly different architectures after extraneous images had been removed but not when such images were included in threshold calculations. This study shows that the failure to remove extraneous images skewed a seemingly objective analysis of biofilm architecture and significantly altered statistically derived conclusions.

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