Letters in applied microbiology

Flow cytometric method for quantifying viable Mycoplasma agassizii, an agent of upper respiratory tract disease in the desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii).

PMID 20132436


Mycoplasma agassizii can cause upper respiratory tract disease in the threatened desert tortoise of the Southwestern United States. Two technical challenges have impeded critical microbiological studies of this microorganism: (i) its small size limits the use of light microscopy for cell counting and (ii) its extremely slow growth in broth and agar cultures impedes colony counting. Our aim was to develop a rapid and sensitive flow cytometric method using a vital fluorescent dye to enumerate viable M. agassizii cells. Here, we demonstrate that the nonfluorescent molecule 5-carboxyfluorescein (5-CF) diacetate acetoxymethyl ester penetrates M. agassizii cell membranes and it is converted in the cytoplasm to the fluorescent molecule 5-CF by the action of intracellular esterases. Labelled mycoplasma cells can be easily detected by flow cytometry, and cultures with as few as 100 viable mycoplasma cells ml(-1) can be labelled and counted in less than 1 h. Experiments using temperature-induced cell death demonstrated that only viable M. agassizii cells are labelled with this procedure. A rapid and sensitive flow cytometric technique has been developed for enumerating viable M. agassizii cells. This technique should facilitate basic immunological, biochemical and pharmacological studies of this important pathogen which may lead to new diagnostic and therapeutic methods.