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Estimating Bacterial Concentrations in Fibrous Substrates Through a Combination of Scanning Electron Microscopy and ImageJ

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journal contribution
posted on 05.03.2019, 00:00 by Tanmay Bera, Joshua Xu, Pierre Alusta, Andrew Fong, Sean W. Linder, Stephen D. Torosian
Conventional signal-based microanalytical techniques for estimating bacterial concentrations are often susceptible to false signals. A visual quantification, therefore, may compliment such techniques by providing additional information and support better management decisions in the event of outbreaks. Herein, we explore a method that combines electron microscopy (EM) and image-analysis techniques and allows both visualization and quantification of pathogenic bacteria adherent even to complex nonuniform substrates. Both the estimation and imaging parameters were optimized to reduce the estimation error (E, %) to close to ±5%. The method was validated against conventional microbiological techniques such as the use of optical density, flow cytometry, and quantitative real-time PCR (qPCR). It could easily be tailored to estimate different species of pathogens, such as Escherichia coli O157, Listeria innocua, Staphylococcus aureus, Enterococcus faecalis, and Bacillus anthracis, on samples similar to those in real-time contamination scenarios. The present method is sensitive enough to detect ∼100 bacterial CFU/mL but has the potential to estimate even lower concentrations with increased imaging and computation times. Overall, this imaging-based method may greatly complement any signal-based pathogen-detection technique, especially in negating false signals, and therefore may significantly contribute to the field of analytical microbiology and biochemistry.