Relationships among Bacterial Cell Size, Productivity, and Genetic Diversity in Aquatic Environments using Cell Sorting and Flow Cytometry

Microb Ecol. 2000 Aug;40(2):148-158. doi: 10.1007/s002480000046.


The study of relationships between cell size and productivity is of key importance in microbial ecology to understand which members of natural aquatic communities are responsible for the overall activity and/or productivity. Flow sorting of microorganisms from different environmental samples was used to analyze the activity of bacterial cells depending on their biovolume. Bacterial cells from five different natural samples taken along the Mediterranean coast including fresh- and seawaters were incubated with tritiated leucine, then stained with SYTO 13 and sorted by flow cytometry according to their average side-angle-scattered (SSC) light. In all samples, a bell-shaped relationship was found between cell biovolume and activity, whereas activity of a given cell-size class varied between samples. In contrast, an inverse relationship was found between biovolumes and abundances. These results suggest that medium-sized cells with highest growth rates are probably submitted to intense grazing. For one sample, bacteria within five different size classes were sorted and the genetic diversity of cells within each sorted size class and that of the whole community were analyzed by the denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE) method. The genetic diversity, as determined at the community level was highly represented into the pool of small cells, whereas only few species were present into larger cell subpopulations. The results suggest that only a few genotypes may be dominant within the largest and most productive cells. Furthermore, cell size polymorphism as well as heterogeneous cellular activities were found within some species.