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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Rapid detection of microbial cell abundance in aquatic systems

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The detection and quantification of naturally occurring microbial cellular densities is an essential component of environmental systems monitoring. While there are a number of commonly utilized approaches for monitoring microbial abundance, capacitance-based biosensors represent a promising approach because of their low-cost and label-free detection of microbial cells, but are not as well characterized as more traditional methods. Here, we investigate the applicability of enhanced alternating current electrokinetics (ACEK) capacitive sensing as a new application for rapidly detecting and quantifying microbial cellular densities in cultured and environmentally sourced aquatic samples. ACEK capacitive sensor performance was evaluated using two distinct and dynamic systems - the Great Australian Bight and groundwater from the Oak Ridge Reservation in Oak Ridge, TN. Results demonstrate that ACEK capacitance-based sensing can accurately determine microbial cell counts throughout cellular concentrations typically encountered in naturally occurring microbial communities (10(3)-10(6) cells/mL). A linear relationship was observed between cellular density and capacitance change correlations, allowing a simple linear curve fitting equation to be used for determining microbial abundances in unknown samples. This work provides a foundation for understanding the limits of capacitance-based sensing in natural environmental samples and supports future efforts focusing on evaluating the robustness ACEK capacitance-based within aquatic environments.

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