Bacterial Growth Rate in the Sea: Direct Analysis by Thymidine Autoradiography

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Science  06 Jan 1967:
Vol. 155, Issue 3758, pp. 81-83
DOI: 10.1126/science.155.3758.81


Autoradiography with tritiated thymidine was used to study microbial growth directly in nature. The epiphyte Leucothrix mucor was used since it is a large filamentous bacterium with a characteristic morphology making it recognizable in natural collections. The technique was developed initially with pure cultures. The relation between growth rate and the rate of accumulation of radioactive cells permitted derivation of a constant for use in calculating growth rate in natural material and in two-membered cultures of L. mucor growing epiphytically on pure cultures of marine algae. The growth rate (generation time) in two-membered cultures with the red alga Antithamnion sarniense was 94 minutes under the conditions used. In nature the growth rate of a sample from Iceland was 685 minutes; that of a sample from Long Island Sound was 660 minutes. There was no evidence of preferential growth in the basal portion of bacterial filaments nearest the algal surface. However, filamentous growth in nature, but not in pure or two-membered culture, was nonrandom, growth being clustered in some regions.