Scientific reports

From red to green: the propidium iodide-permeable membrane of Shewanella decolorationis S12 is repairable.

PMID 26687136


Viability is a common issue of concern in almost all microbial processes. Fluorescence-based assays are extensively used in microbial viability assessment, especially for mixed-species samples or biofilms. Propidium iodide (PI) is the most frequently used fluorescence indicator for cell viability based on the membrane permeability. Our results showed that the accumulation of succinate from fumarate respiration could induce PI-permeability in Shewanella decolorationis biofilm cells. Confocal laser scanning microscope further showed that the PI-permeable membrane could be repaired in situ when the extracellular succinate was eliminated by switching fumarate respiration to electrode respiration. Simultaneously with the membrane repair, the electrode respiring capacity of the originally PI-permeable cells was recovered. Agar-colony counts suggested that a major portion of the repaired cells were viable but nonculturable (VBNC). The results evidenced that S. decolorationis S12 has the capacity to repair PI-permeable membranes which suggests a reevaluation of the fate and function of the PI-permeable bacteria and expanded our knowledge on the flexibility of bacterial survival status in harsh environments.