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Validation of SYTO 9/Propidium Iodide Uptake for Rapid Detection of Viable but Noncultivable Legionella pneumophila

Gião, M. S., Wilks, S. A., Azevedo, N. F., Vieira, M. J., Keevil, C. W.
Microbial ecology 2009 v.58 no.1 pp. 56-62
Acanthamoeba, Legionella pneumophila, agar, charcoal, chlorine, disease outbreaks, disinfection, drinking water, fever, iodides, microorganisms, pathogens, rapid methods, trademarks, viability, yeast extract
Legionella pneumophila is an ubiquitous environmental microorganism that can cause Legionnaires' disease or Pontiac fever. As a waterborne pathogen, it has been found to be resistant to chlorine disinfection and survive in drinking water systems, leading to potential outbreaks of waterborne disease. In this work, the effect of different concentrations of free chlorine was studied (0.2, 0.7, and 1.2 mg l⁻¹), the cultivability of cells assessed by standard culture techniques (buffered charcoal yeast extract agar plates) and viability using the SYTO 9/propidium iodide fluorochrome uptake assay (LIVE/DEAD® BacLight[trade mark sign]). Results demonstrate that L. pneumophila loses cultivability after exposure for 30 min to 0.7 mg l⁻¹ of free chlorine and in 10 min when the concentration is increased to 1.2 mg l⁻¹. However, the viability of the cells was only slightly affected even after 30 min exposure to the highest concentration of chlorine; good correlation was obtained between the rapid SYTO 9/propidium iodide fluorochrome uptake assay and a longer cocultivation with Acanthamoeba polyphaga assay, confirming that these cells could still recover their cultivability. These results raise new concerns about the assessment of drinking water disinfection efficiency and indicate the necessity of further developing new validated rapid methods, such as the SYTO 9/propidium iodide uptake assay, to assess viable but noncultivable L. pneumophila cells in the environment.