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Aquatic Microbial Ecology

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AME 12:177-202 (1997)  -  doi:10.3354/ame012177

Oligotrophy and pelagic marine bacteria: facts and fiction

Schut F, Prins RA, Gottschal JC

Oligotrophy, or the inability of bacterial cells to propagate at elevated nutrient concentrations, is a controversial phenomenon in microbiology. The exact cause of the unculturability of many indigenous marine bacteria on standard laboratory media has still not been resolved. Unfortunately, the physiology of such cells is difficult to investigate as long as high cell density cultures cannot be obtained. An extensive evaluation of experiments relating to oligotrophy and the cultivation of marine bacteria is presented in this review. When incorporating the findings of studies performed with molecular biological methods, the picture emerges that indigenous marine bacteria can be cultivated under certain conditions and that the 'oligotrophic way of life' is a transient characteristic. Although strong generalisations should not be made with respect to a biological system as diverse as the world's oceans, it should be anticipated that cells with unique physiological characteristics appear to exist in the oceanic system. When combining conventional physiological approaches with molecular biological techniques it is feasible to unveil the phenotypes that go with the encountered genotypes. In view of the enormous complexity of the oceanic system this will prove an ambitious, yet resourceful undertaking.

Oligotrophy · Unculturable bacteria · Uptake kinetics · Marine bacteria · Isolation procedures

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