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Syst Appl Microbiol. 1998 Aug;21(3):333-9.

Nonculturable Enterococcus faecalis cells are metabolically active and capable of resuming active growth.

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Istituto di Microbiologia, Universià di Verona, Italy.


Entry into the viable but nonculturable (VNC) state is a survival mechanism that bacteria can adopt when they find themselves in an adverse environment. When in this state, bacteria are still viable but are unable to form colonies on growth medium. The possibility of Gram-positive species entering the VNC state when environmental conditions are adverse and remaining viable and capable of resuming active growth is demonstrated for the first time in this study by using exponential-phase cultures of Enterococcus faecalis inoculated in filtered, sterilized water from Lake Garada (Italy). Over the 60-day study, the number of total cells stained with a fluorescent or counted with a Coulter Counter remained constant, while the number of cells capable of forming colonies on Tryptic Soy Agar (TSA) declined rapidly from 10(6) CFU/ml on day 0 to 10(3) CFU/ml on day 4. On day 14 no colonies could be observed when 50 ml of inoculated lake water were plated. E. faecalis cells conserved their viability while in the VNC state, as can be demonstrated by active uptake of amino acids, which are also incorporated into proteins, and by continuous detection of E. faecalis specific DNA by PCR throughout the experiment. The possibility of revival of the E. faecalis cells in the VNC state when returned to conditions supporting its cell growth has also been demonstrated. The data obtained in this study lend further support to recent criticisms of the traditional methods used to evaluate water quality based on plate counts, assessing fecal contamination indicators such as Escherichia coli and fecal streptococci.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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