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The tetrazolium salt sodium 3'-{1-[(phenylamino)-carbonyl]-3,4- tetrazolium}-bis (4-methoxy-6-nitro)benzene-sulfonic acid hydrate (XTT) was examined for use as a colorimetric indicator of viability in respiring bacteria. XTT was reduced to an orange, water-soluble formazan product by Methylosinus trichosporium OB3b, Pseudomonas putida, Escherichia coli, and Bacillus subtilis. Formazan production was proportional to live cell biomass, and XTT was reduced by all cultures in the absence of added electron-coupling agents. XTT reduction by M. trichosporium OB3b was linear over several hours and was stimulated by the presence of an exogenous substrate (methanol). Addition of cyanide to cultures incubated under oxic conditions gave an initial 10-fold increase in XTT reduction. Viability of bacteria incubated in the absence of exogenous carbon substrates was measured as XTT reduction and compared with viability estimates from plate counts. Results obtained with the two methods were generally comparable, but the XTT assay was superior when cell recovery on plates was low. Incubation of E. coli for 7 days in the absence of exogenous carbon substrates decreased viability by 90%, whereas the corresponding decreases for cultures of M. trichosporium OB3b, P. putida, and B. subtilis were less than 40%.

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Applied and Environmental Microbiology

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