Scanning electron microscopy coupled with energy-dispersive X-ray spectrometry for quick detection of sulfur-oxidizing bacteria in environmental water samples

Research paper by Chengjun Sun孙承君, Fenghua Jiang蒋凤华, Wei Gao高伟, Xiaoyun Li李小云, Yanzhen Yu于延珍, Xiaofei Yin尹晓斐, Yong Wang王勇, Haibing Ding丁海兵

Indexed on: 09 Mar '16Published on: 08 Mar '16Published in: Chinese Journal of Oceanology and Limnology


Detection of sulfur-oxidizing bacteria has largely been dependent on targeted gene sequencing technology or traditional cell cultivation, which usually takes from days to months to carry out. This clearly does not meet the requirements of analysis for time-sensitive samples and/or complicated environmental samples. Since energy-dispersive X-ray spectrometry (EDS) can be used to simultaneously detect multiple elements in a sample, including sulfur, with minimal sample treatment, this technology was applied to detect sulfur-oxidizing bacteria using their high sulfur content within the cell. This article describes the application of scanning electron microscopy imaging coupled with EDS mapping for quick detection of sulfur oxidizers in contaminated environmental water samples, with minimal sample handling. Scanning electron microscopy imaging revealed the existence of dense granules within the bacterial cells, while EDS identified large amounts of sulfur within them. EDS mapping localized the sulfur to these granules. Subsequent 16S rRNA gene sequencing showed that the bacteria detected in our samples belonged to the genus Chromatium, which are sulfur oxidizers. Thus, EDS mapping made it possible to identify sulfur oxidizers in environmental samples based on localized sulfur within their cells, within a short time (within 24 h of sampling). This technique has wide ranging applications for detection of sulfur bacteria in environmental water samples.