Ethidium bromide monoazide (EMA) was utilized to selectively allow conventional PCR amplification of target DNA from viable but not dead cells from a broth culture of bacterial mixed flora derived from cod fillets. The universal primers designated DG74 and RW01 that amplify a 370-bp sequence of a highly conserved region of all eubacterial 16S rDNA were used for the PCR. The use of 10 microg/ml or less of EMA did not inhibit the PCR amplification of DNA derived from viable bacteria. The minimum amount of EMA to completely inhibit the PCR amplification of DNA derived from dead bacterial cells was 0.8 microg/ml. Amplification of target DNA from only viable cells in a suspension with dead cells was selectively accomplished by first treating the cells with 1 microg/ml of EMA. A standard curve was generated relating the intensity of fluorescence of DNA bands to the log of CFU of mixed bacterial cultures for rapidly assessing the number of genomic targets per PCR derived from the number of CFU. A linear range of DNA amplification was exhibited from 1 x 10(2) to 1 x 10(5) genomic targets per PCR. The viable/dead cell discrimination with the EMA-PCR method was evaluated by comparison with plate counts following freezing and thawing. Thawing frozen cell suspensions initially containing 1 x 10(5) CFU/ml at 4, 20, and 37 degrees C yielded a 0.8 log reduction in the number of viable cells determined by both plate counts and EMA-PCR. In contrast, thawing for 5 min at 70 degrees C resulted in a 5 log reduction in CFU derived from plate counts (no CFU detected) whereas the EMA-PCR procedure resulted in only a 2.8 log reduction in genomic targets, possibly reflecting greater damage to enzymes or ribosomes at 70 degrees C to a minority of the mixed population compared to membrane damage.
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