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Cytometry. 1989 Jan;10(1):70-6.

Characterizing aquatic bacteria according to population, cell size, and apparent DNA content by flow cytometry.

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Institute of Marine Science, University of Alaska, Fairbanks 99775-1080.


Flow cytometry offers a rapid method for characterizing aquatic populations according to the properties of individual cells. This technology has been extended to aquatic bacteria by using high-intensity UV excitation, condensing the laser beam onto a small area, using blemish-free flow cells, optimizing organism staining protocol, segregating the optical signal produced with high-transmittance optical filters, collecting the signal with sensitive photomultipliers, and expanding the range of data displayed from individual samples with calibrated circuitry. Bacteria could be counted according to event frequency, and populations agreed with direct counts by epifluorescence microscopy. Forward scatter intensity was a linear function of volume for bacterial cells between 1.3 and 0.25 micron 3 as calibrated by Coulter impedance. Plastic spheres down to 0.014 micron 3, 0.3 micron in diameter, were resolved. Aquatic bacteria 0.05 micron 3 in volume were clearly resolved according to DNA content by staining with DAPI. The observed signal was DNA-dependent because DNase treatment eliminated most fluorescence. These procedures are suitable for direct analysis of the bacteria in marine and freshwater samples without interference from algae, sediment, or most DNA-free organic particles. Cytograms indicated one or more clearly resolved subpopulations of bacteria of substantially smaller size and DNA content than the laboratory organisms typically classified.

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