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The ability of Escherichia coli and Bacillus subtilis to regulate their cytoplasmic pH is well studied in cell suspensions but is poorly understood in individual adherent cells and biofilms. We observed the cytoplasmic pH of individual cells using ratiometric pHluorin. A standard curve equating the fluorescence ratio with pH was obtained by perfusion at a range of external pH 5.0 to 9.0, with uncouplers that collapse the transmembrane pH difference. Adherent cells were acid stressed by switching the perfusion medium from pH 7.5 to pH 5.5. The E. coli cytoplasmic pH fell to a value that varied among individual cells (range of pH 6.2 to 6.8), but a majority of cells recovered (to pH 7.0 to 7.5) within 2 min. In an E. coli biofilm, cells shifted from pH 7.5 to pH 5.5 failed to recover cytoplasmic pH. Following a smaller shift (from pH 7.5 to pH 6.0), most biofilm cells recovered fully, although the pH decreased further than that of isolated adherent cells, and recovery took longer (7 min or longer). Some biofilm cells began to recover pH and then failed, a response not seen in isolated cells. B. subtilis cells were acid shifted from pH 7.5 to pH 6.0. In B. subtilis, unlike the case with E. coli, cytoplasmic pH showed no “overshoot” but fell to a level that was maintained. This level of cytoplasmic pH post-acid shift varied among individual B. subtilis cells (range of pH, 7.0 to 7.7). Overall, the cytoplasmic pHs of individual bacteria show important variation in the acid stress response, including novel responses in biofilms.


Applied and Environmental Microbiology



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