Physiological methods to study biofilm disinfection
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This report reviews the development of a rapidin situ approach to study the physiological responses of bacteria within biofilms to disinfectants. One method utilized direct viable counts (DVC) to assess the disinfection efficacy when thin biofilms were exposed to chlorine or monochloramine. Results obtained using the DVC method were one log higher than plate count (PC) estimates of the surviving population after disinfection. Other methods incorporated the use of fluorogenic stains, a cryotomy technique to yield thin (5-μm) sections of biofilm communities and examination by fluorescence microscopy. The fluorogenic stains used in this approach included 5-cyano-2,3-ditolyl tetrazolium chloride (CTC), which indicates cellular electron transport activity and Rhodamine 123, which responds specifically to proton motive force. The use of these stains allowed the microscopic discrimination of physiologically active bacteria as well as heterogeneities of active cells within thicker biofilms. The results of experiments using these techniques with pure culture and binary population biofilms on stainless steel coupons indicated biocidal activity of chlorine-based disinfectants occurred initially at the bulk-fluid interface of the communities and progressed toward the substratum. This approach provided a unique opportunity to describe the spatial response of bacteria within biofilms to antimicrobial agents and address mechanisms explaining their comparative resistance to disinfection in a way that has not been possible using traditional approaches. Results obtained using this alternative approach were also consistently higher than PC data following disinfection. These observations suggest that traditional methods involving biofilm removal and bacterial enumeration by colony formation overestimate biocide efficacy. Hence the alternative approach described here more accurately indicates the ability of bacteria surviving disinfection to recover and grow as well as demonstrate spatial heterogeneities in cellular physiological activities within biofilms.
McFeters, G.A., F.P. Yu, B.H. Pyle and P.S. Stewart, "Physiological methods to study biofilm disinfection," Journal of Industrial Microbiology, 15(4):333-338 (1995).