Phylogenetic stains: ribosomal RNA-based probes for the identification of single cells

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Science  10 Mar 1989:
Vol. 243, Issue 4896, pp. 1360-1363
DOI: 10.1126/science.2466341

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Rapid phylogenetic identification of single microbial cells was achieved with a new staining method. Formaldehyde-fixed, intact cells were hybridized with fluorescently labeled oligodeoxynucleotides complementary to 16S ribosomal RNA (rRNA) and viewed by fluorescence microscopy. Because of the abundance of rRNA in cells, the binding of the fluorescent probes to individual cells is readily visualized. Phylogenetic identification is achieved by the use of oligonucleotides (length 17 to 34 nucleotides) that are complementary to phylogenetic group-specific 16S rRNA sequences. Appropriate probes can be composed of oligonucleotide sequences that distinguish between the primary kingdoms (eukaryotes, eubacteria, archaebacteria) and between closely related organisms. The simultaneous use of multiple probes, labeled with different fluorescent dyes, allows the identification of different cell types in the same microscopic field. Quantitative microfluorimetry shows that the amount of an rRNA-specific probe that binds to Escherichia coli varies with the ribosome content and therefore reflects growth rate.