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Bacterial viability and culturability

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Michael Barer, Professor Colin Harwood


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Renewed interest in the relationships between viability and culturability in bacteria stems from three sources: (1) the recognition that there are many bacteria in the biosphere that have never been propagated or characterized in laboratory culture; (2) the proposal that some readily culturable bacteria may respond to certain stimuli by entering a temporarily non-culturable state termed 'viable but non-culturable' (VBNC) by some authors; and (3) the development of new techniques that facilitate demonstration of activity, integrity and composition of non-culturable bacterial cells. We review the background to these areas of interest emphasizing the view that, in an operational context, the term VBNC is self-contradictory (Kell et al., 1998) and the likely distinctions between temporarily non-culturable bacteria and those that have never been cultured. We consider developments in our knowledge of physiological processes in bacteria that may influence the outcome of a culturability test (injury and recovery, ageing, adaptation and differentiation, substrate-accelerated death and other forms of metabolic self-destruction, prophages, toxin-antitoxin systems and cell-to-cell communication). Finally, we discuss whether it is appropriate to consider the viability of individual bacteria or whether, in some circumstances, it may be more appropriate to consider viability as a property of a community of bacteria.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Barer MR; Harwood CR

Publication type: Review

Publication status: Published

Journal: Advances in Microbial Physiology

Year: 1999

Volume: 41

Issue: 0

Pages: 93-137

Print publication date: 01/01/1999

ISSN (print): 0065-2911

ISSN (electronic): 2162-5468


DOI: 10.1016/S0065-2911(08)60166-6

PubMed id: 10500845