Microbial Ecology

Microbial Ecology

Bacterial Abundance, Activity, and Viability in the Eutrophic River Warnow, Northeast Germany

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The River Warnow is the drinking water source for the city of Rostock. Its eutrophic status is accompanied by high amounts of bacteria, which may reach up to 24 × 106 cells mL−1 as recorded during a seasonal study in 2002. Because the river is eutrophic and also heavily loaded with organic matter, this burden is a problem for drinking water purification, as it must be removed completely to not trigger new bacterial growth in the pipeline network. Therefore, restoration measures in the river have to be planned, and bacteria have to be favored as decomposers. That includes the investigation of the physiological state of bacteria in situ. Viable and active cells in the lower reaches of River Warnow were estimated using a broad set of methods. Intact bacteria were investigated by the LIVE/DEAD® BacLight™ bacterial viability kit, containing a mixture of permeant and impermeant nucleic acid stains. Cells with ribosomes were visualized by fluorescence in situ hybridization with the EUB338 oligonucleotide probe. Intact cells and ribosome-containing bacteria represented 24% of total numbers stained by 4′6,-diamidino-2-phenylindole (DAPI) or 66 and 62%, respectively, in relation to all bacteria visualized by the LIVE/DEAD kit. Both fractions were considered as viable, although the fraction of RIB + bacteria is most likely underestimated by the protocol applied. 5-Cyano-2,3-ditolyltetrazolium chloride (CTC) was applied to mark respiring bacteria. The esterase substrate CellTracker™ Green 5-chloromethylfluorescein diacetate showed cells with intracellular hydrolytic activity. Whereas 1.5% of DAPI-stained bacteria were observed as respiring, 3.8% exhibited intracellular hydrolytic activity on average. If these active fractions were calculated as the percentages of intact cells, much higher fractions of 5.4% were respiring and 16% hydrolytic. Temperature was a main factor influencing total and viable cell numbers simultaneously. The results confirm that there are different states of viable and active cells in natural bacterioplankton communities. However, it remains unclear why fractions of viable and active cells were rather low in this eutrophic river in comparison to similar waters. We recommend to carefully address cells as viable in contrast to nonviable, i.e., dead. As viable cells may be active or inactive with respect to many different activities, e.g., substrate uptake, respiration, hydrolysis, and cell deviation, it is necessary to choose the method to visualize active cells according to the question to be answered.

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