Real-time Detection of Actively Metabolizing Microbes by Redox Sensing as Applied to Methylotroph Populations in Lake Washington

ISME J. 2008 Jul;2(7):696-706. doi: 10.1038/ismej.2008.32. Epub 2008 Mar 27.


Redox sensor green (RSG), a novel fluorescent dye from Invitrogen was employed as a tool for real-time detection of microbes metabolically active in situ, in combination with flow cytometry and cell sorting. Lake Washington sediment, an environment known for high rates of methane oxidation, was used as a model, and methylotrophs were targeted as a functional group. We first tested and optimized the performance of the dye with pure methylotroph cultures. Most cells in actively growing cultures were positive for staining, whereas in starved cultures, few cells fluoresced. However, starved cells could be activated by addition of substrate. High numbers of fluorescing cells were observed in a Lake Washington sediment sample, and activation of subpopulations of cells was demonstrated in response to methane, methanol, methylamine and formaldehyde. The fraction of the population activated by methane was investigated in more detail, by phylogenetic profiling. This approach showed that the major responding species were the Methylomonas species, previously isolated from the site, and Methylobacter species that have not yet been cultivated from Lake Washington. In addition, from the methane-stimulated fraction, uncultivated bacterial sequences were obtained that belonged to unclassified Deltaproteobacteria, unclassified Verrucomicrobiles and unclassified Acidobacteria, suggesting that these microbes may also be involved in methane metabolism. The approach was further tested for its utility in facilitating enrichment for functional types that possess specific metabolic activities but resist cultivation. It was demonstrated that in enrichment cultures inoculated with cells that were sorted after stimulation with methane, Methylobacter sequences could be detected, whereas in enrichment cultures inoculated by randomly sorted cells, Methylomonas species quickly outcompeted all other types.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • DNA, Bacterial / genetics
  • DNA, Ribosomal / genetics
  • Deltaproteobacteria / cytology
  • Deltaproteobacteria / genetics
  • Deltaproteobacteria / isolation & purification*
  • Deltaproteobacteria / metabolism*
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Fluorescent Dyes / metabolism*
  • Fresh Water / microbiology*
  • Geologic Sediments / microbiology
  • Methane / metabolism*
  • Methylobacteriaceae / cytology
  • Methylobacteriaceae / genetics
  • Methylobacteriaceae / isolation & purification*
  • Methylobacteriaceae / metabolism*
  • Microbial Viability
  • Phylogeny
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / genetics
  • Staining and Labeling / methods*


  • DNA, Bacterial
  • DNA, Ribosomal
  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S
  • Methane