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A system for the atomised enumeration of groups of marine picoplankton after fluorescence in situ hybridization

We describe here an automated system for the counting of multiple samples of double-stained microbial cells on sections of membrane filters. The application integrates an epifluorescence microscope equipped with motorized z-axis drive, shutters, and filter wheels with a scanning stage, a digital camera, and image analysis software.

The relative abundances of specific microbial taxa are quantified in samples of marine picoplankton, as detected by fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) and catalyzed reporter deposition. Pairs of microscopic images are automatically acquired from numerous positions at two wavelengths, and microbial cells with both general DNA and FISH staining are counted after object edge detection and signal-to-background ratio thresholding. Microscopic fields that are inappropriate for cell counting are automatically excluded prior to measurements.

Two nested walk paths guide the device across a series of triangular preparations until a user-defined number of total cells have been analysed per sample. A backup autofocusing routine at incident light allows automated refocusing between individual samples and can reestablish the focal plane after fatal focusing errors at epifluorescence illumination.

The system was calibrated to produce relative abundances of FISH-stained cells in North Sea samples that were comparable to results obtained by manual evaluation. Up to 28 preparations could be analysed within 4 h without operator interference. The device was subsequently applied for the counting of different microbial populations in incubation series of North Sea waters. Automated digital microscopy greatly facilitates the processing of numerous FISH-stained samples and might thus open new perspectives for bacterioplankton population ecology.

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Reported by

Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology
Celsiustrasse 1
D-28359 Bremen
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