A novel nanoparticle approach for imaging nutrient uptake by soil bacteria

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Sarah L O'Brien1, Matthew D Whiteside2, Deirdre Sholto-Douglas1, Dionysios A. Antonopoulos1, Maxim Boyanov1, Daniel M. Durall3, Melanie D. Jones3, Barry Lai1, Edward J O'Loughlin1 and Ken M Kemner1, (1)Argonne National Laboratory, Argonne, IL, United States, (2)Vrije Universiteit,, Amsterdam, Netherlands, (3)University of British Columbia, Okanagan, Kelowna, Canada
The metabolic activities of soil microbes are the primary drivers of biogeochemical processes controlling the terrestrial carbon cycle, nutrient availability to plants, contaminant remediation, water quality, and other ecosystem services. However, we have a limited understanding of microbial metabolic processes such as nutrient uptake rates, substrate preferences, or how microbes and microbial metabolism are distributed throughout their habitat. Here we use a novel imaging technique with quantum dots (QDs, engineered semiconductor nanoparticles that produce size or composition-dependent fluorescence) to measure bacterial uptake of substrates of varying complexity. Cultures of two organisms differing in cell wall structure — Bacillus subtilis and Pseudomonas fluorescens — were grown in one of four ecologically relevant experimental conditions: nitrogen (N) limitation, phosphorus (P) limitation, N and P limitation, or no nutrient limitation. The cultures were then exposed to QDs with and without organic nutrients attached. X-ray fluorescence imaging was performed at 2ID-D at the Advanced Photon Source (APS) to determine the elemental distributions within both planktonic and surface-adhered (i.e, biofilms) cells.

Uptake of unconjugated QDs was neglibible, and QDs conjugated to organic substrates varied depending on growth conditions and substrate, suggesting that they are a useful indicator of bacterial ecology. Cellular uptake was similar for the two bacterial species (2212 ± 273 nanoparticles per cm3 of cell volume for B. subtilis and 1682 ± 264 for P. fluorescens). On average, QD assimilation was six times greater when N or P was limiting, and cells took up about twice as much phosphoserine compared to other substrates, likely because it was the only compound providing both N and P. These results showed that regardless of their cell wall structure, bacteria can selectively take up quantifiable levels of QDs based on substrate and environmental conditions. APS images are consistent with those produced with confocal and optical microscopes, indicating that the XRF approach can detect bacterial uptake of CdSe-core QDs. These findings offer a new way to experimentally investigate basic bacterial ecology such as metabolic activity and biofilm development and function.