Despite the numerous advantages of fluorescent in situ hybridization for the identification of single prokaryotic cells with 16S rRNA probes, use of the technique with natural samples, especially those from the marine environment, is still problematic. The low percentage of fluorescently labeled cells constitutes the primary problem for in situ hybridization of natural samples, probably due to low cellular rRNA content. This study represents an attempt to improve detection of marine prokaryotes by increasing cellular rRNA content without changing the species composition. Cells from three California coastal sites were treated with chloramphenicol, an inhibitor of protein synthesis and rRNA degradation, at 100 (mu)g/ml and then were probed with a "universal" 16S rRNA fluorescent probe and viewed by image-intensified video microscopy. Counts of fluorescent cells increased from ca. 75% for untreated samples to ca. 93 to 99% for chloramphenicol-treated samples, compared to counts produced by DAPI (4(prm1),6-diamidino-2-phenylindole) staining, after at least 45 min of exposure to the drug (these percentages include autofluorescent cells, which averaged 6%). This suggests that most cells in these samples were active. We hypothesize that the low fluorescent-cell counts previously reported were probably often due to the fluorescence intensity of labeled cells being below the detection level rather than to high levels of dead cells in marine environments. This method may aid in the characterization of bacterioplankton with fluorescent probes.
Cleber C. Ouverney and Jed A. Fuhrman. "Increase in Fluorescence Intensity of 16S rRNA In Situ Hybridization in Natural Samples Treated with Chloramphenicol" Faculty Publications, Biological Sciences (1997): 2735-2740.