Dormancy in Stationary-Phase Cultures of Micrococcus luteus: Flow Cytometric Analysis of Starvation and Resuscitation

Appl Environ Microbiol. 1993 Oct;59(10):3187-96. doi: 10.1128/aem.59.10.3187-3196.1993.


Cultures of the copiotrophic bacterium Micrococcus luteus were stored in spent growth medium for an extended period of time following batch culture. After an initial decrease, the total cell counts remained constant at approximately 60 to 70% of the counts at the beginning of storage. The level of viability, as judged by plate counts, decreased to less than 0.05%, while respiration and the ability to accumulate the lipophilic cation rhodamine 123 decreased to undetectable levels. However, using penicillin pretreatment (to remove viable cells) and flow cytometry and by monitoring both the total and viable counts, we found that at least 50% of the cells in populations of 75-day-old cultures were not dead but were dormant. Resuscitation in liquid medium was accompanied by the appearance of a population of larger cells, which could accumulate rhodamine 123 and reduce the dye 5-cyano-2,3-ditolyl tetrazolium chloride to a fluorescent formazan, while a similar fraction of the population was converted to colony-forming, viable cells. We surmise that dormancy may be far more common than death in starving microbial cultures.