Electron microscopy of frozen-hydrated bacteria

J Bacteriol. 1983 Jul;155(1):381-90. doi: 10.1128/jb.155.1.381-390.1983.


Amorphous, unstained, frozen-hydrated sections of bacteria provide a faithful high-resolution image of procaryotic cells. Conventional preparation artifacts due to fixation, staining, and dehydration are nonexistent. Freezing damage is avoided by using glucose as a cryoprotectant. Cutting damage on frozen material is severe, but sectioning artifacts, being always related to the cutting direction, can be systematically recognized and thus taken into consideration. Geometry and density distribution of the bacterial envelope can be resolved to about 3 nm. The following main features have been observed. In Escherichia coli the inner and outer membranes have an approximately uniform density profile. The distance between the two membranes is constant, ca. 33 nm. In Staphylococcus aureus the cell wall is ca. 40 nm wide. It is bordered on the cytoplasmic side by an asymmetric 5.5-nm-wide bilayer. The bacterial nucleoid, clearly visible with conventional preparation methods, appears in exponentially growing bacteria as an ill-defined central region with approximately the same density as the rest of the cytoplasm. It becomes more clearly visible when bacteria are in the stationary phase, plasmolysed, fixed, or stained. We confirm that "mesosomes," hitherto quite often considered to be essential organelles in all procaryotes, are artifacts. They appear in large numbers during osmium fixation.

MeSH terms

  • Bacillus subtilis / ultrastructure
  • Bacteria / ultrastructure*
  • Escherichia coli / ultrastructure
  • Freezing
  • Klebsiella pneumoniae / ultrastructure
  • Microscopy, Electron / methods
  • Staphylococcus aureus / ultrastructure