Wilks, S.A. and Keevil, C.W.
Targeting species-specific low-affinity 16S rRNA binding sites by using peptide nucleic acids for detection of legionellae in biofilms
Applied and Environmental Microbiology, 72, (8), . (doi:10.1128/AEM.02918-05).
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Using fluorescence in situ hybridization to detect bacterial groups has several inherent limitations. DNA probes are generally used, targeting sites on the 16S rRNA. However, much of the 16S rRNA is highly conserved, with variable regions often located in inaccessible areas where secondary structures can restrict probe access. Here, we describe the use of peptide nucleic acid (PNA) probes as a superior alternative to DNA probes, especially when used for environmental samples. A complex bacterial genus (Legionella) was studied, and two probes were designed, one to detect all species and one targeted to Legionella pneumophila. These probes were developed from existing sequences and are targeted to low-binding-affinity sites on the 16S rRNA. In total, 47 strains of Legionella were tested. In all cases, the Legionella spp. PNA probe labeled cells strongly but did not bind to any non-Legionella species. Likewise, the specific L. pneumophila PNA probe labeled only strains of L. pneumophila. By contrast, the equivalent DNA probes performed poorly. To assess the applicability of this method for use on environmental samples, drinking-water biofilms were spiked with a known concentration of L. pneumophila bacteria. Quantifications of the L. pneumophila bacteria were compared using PNA hybridization and standard culture methods. The culture method quantified only 10% of the number of L. pneumophila bacteria found by PNA hybridization. This illustrates the value of this method for use on complex environmental samples, especially where cells may be in a viable but noncultivable state.
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