Assessment of GFP fluorescence in cells of Streptococcus gordonii under conditions of low pH and low oxygen concentration

Microbiology (Reading). 2001 May;147(Pt 5):1383-1391. doi: 10.1099/00221287-147-5-1383.


Use of green fluorescent protein (GFP) as a molecular reporter is restricted by several environmental factors, such as its requirement for oxygen in the development of the fluorophore, and its poor fluorescence at low pH. There are conflicting data on these limitations, however, and systematic studies to assess the importance of these factors for growing bacterial cultures are lacking. In the present study, homogeneous expression of the gfpmut3* gene directed by a synthetic constitutive lactococcal promoter was demonstrated in batch cultures and in biofilms of Streptococcus gordonii DL1. A lower limit of oxygen concentration for maturation of the GFP fluorophore was determined: fluorescence was emitted at 0.1 p.p.m. dissolved oxygen (in conventionally prepared anaerobic media lacking reducing agents), whereas no fluorescence was detected in the presence of 0.025 p.p.m. dissolved oxygen (obtained by addition of L-cysteine as reducing agent). When an anaerobically grown (non-fluorescent) >50 microm thick biofilm was shifted to aerobic conditions, fluorescence could be detected within 4 min, reaching a maximum over the next 16 min. It was not possible to detect any fluorescence gradients (lateral or vertical) within the >50 microm thick biofilm, and fluorescence development after the shift to aerobic conditions occurred throughout the biofilm (even at the substratum). This suggests that oxygen gradients, which might result in reduced GFP fluorescence, did not exist in the >50 microm thick biofilm of this organism. Production of lactic acid and the subsequent acidification in batch cultures of S. gordonii DL1 led to a decrease in fluorescence intensity. However, severe pH reduction was prevented when the bacterium was grown as a biofilm in a flowcell, and a homogeneous distribution of a strong fluorescence signal was observed. These findings show that GFP can be applied to studies of oxygen-tolerant anaerobic bacteria, that densely packed, flowcell-grown biofilms of S. gordonii do not develop oxygen gradients inhibitory to GFP fluorescence development, and that the often transient nature of GFP fluorescence in acid-producing bacteria can be overcome in flowcells, probably by the elimination of metabolic by-product accumulation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anaerobiosis
  • Biofilms
  • Fluorescence
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Luminescent Proteins / genetics
  • Luminescent Proteins / metabolism*
  • Microscopy, Confocal
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence
  • Oxygen / metabolism*
  • Plasmids
  • Streptococcus / metabolism*
  • Streptococcus / physiology


  • Luminescent Proteins
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins
  • Oxygen