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BMC Microbiol. 2014 Mar 7;14:56. doi: 10.1186/1471-2180-14-56.

Species-specific viability analysis of Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Burkholderia cepacia and Staphylococcus aureus in mixed culture by flow cytometry.

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Chair of Bioprocess Engineering, Otto von Guericke University, Magdeburg, Germany.



Bacterial species coexist commonly in mixed communities, for instance those occurring in microbial infections of humans. Interspecies effects contribute to alterations in composition of communities with respect to species and thus, to the course and severity of infection. Therefore, knowledge concerning growth and viability of single species in medically-relevant mixed communities is of high interest to resolve complexity of interspecies dynamics and to support development of treatment strategies. In this study, a flow cytometric method was established to assess the species-specific viability in defined three-species mixed cultures. The method enables the characterization of viability of Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Burkholderia cepacia and Staphylococcus aureus, which are relevant to lung infections of Cystic Fibrosis (CF) patients. The method combines fluorescence detection by antibody and lectin labeling with viability fluorescence staining using SYBRGreen I and propidium iodide. In addition, species-specific cell enumeration analysis using quantitative terminal restriction fragment length polymorphisms (qT-RFLP) was used to monitor the growth dynamics. Finally, to investigate the impact of substrate availability on growth and viability, concentrations of main substrates and metabolites released were determined.


For each species, the time course of growth and viability during mixed culture cultivations was obtained by using qT-RFLP analysis in combination with flow cytometry. Comparison between mixed and pure cultures revealed for every species differences in growth properties, e.g. enhanced growth of P. aeruginosa in mixed culture. Differences were also observed for B. cepacia and S. aureus in the time course of viability, e.g. an early and drastic reduction of viability of S. aureus in mixed culture. Overall, P. aeruginosa clearly dominated the mixed culture with regard to obtained cell concentrations.


In combination with qT-RFLP analysis, the methods enabled monitoring of species-specific cell concentrations and viability during co-cultivation of theses strains. Experimental findings suggest that the predominance of P. aeruginosa over B. cepacia and S. aureus in mixed culture under the chosen cultivation conditions is promoted by more efficient substrate consumption of P. aeruginosa, and antagonistic interspecies effects induced by P. aeruginosa.

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