To examine phylogenetic identity and metabolic activity of individual cells in complex microbial communities, we developed a method which combines rRNA-based in situ hybridization with stable isotope imaging based on nanometer-scale secondary-ion mass spectrometry (NanoSIMS). Fluorine or bromine atoms were introduced into cells via 16S rRNA-targeted probes, which enabled phylogenetic identification of individual cells by NanoSIMS imaging. To overcome the natural fluorine and bromine backgrounds, we modified the current catalyzed reporter deposition fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) technique by using halogen-containing fluorescently labeled tyramides as substrates for the enzymatic tyramide deposition. Thereby, we obtained an enhanced element labeling of microbial cells by FISH (EL-FISH). The relative cellular abundance of fluorine or bromine after EL-FISH exceeded natural background concentrations by up to 180-fold and allowed us to distinguish target from non-target cells in NanoSIMS fluorine or bromine images. The method was optimized on single cells of axenic Escherichia coli and Vibrio cholerae cultures. EL-FISH/NanoSIMS was then applied to study interrelationships in a dual-species consortium consisting of a filamentous cyanobacterium and a heterotrophic alphaproteobacterium. We also evaluated the method on complex microbial aggregates obtained from human oral biofilms. In both samples, we found evidence for metabolic interactions by visualizing the fate of substrates labeled with 13C-carbon and 15N-nitrogen, while individual cells were identified simultaneously by halogen labeling via EL-FISH. Our novel approach will facilitate further studies of the ecophysiology of known and uncultured microorganisms in complex environments and communities.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Food Science
- Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology