Applied and Environmental Microbiology
Understanding the transport and behavior of bacteria in the environment has broad implications in diverse areas, ranging from agriculture to groundwater quality, risk assessment, and bioremediation. The ability to reliably track and enumerate specific bacterial populations in the context of native communities and environments is key to developing this understanding. We report a novel bacterial tracking approach, based on altering the stable carbon isotope value (delta C-13) Of bacterial cells, which provides specific and sensitive detection and quantification of those cells in environmental samples. This approach was applied to the study of bacterial transport in saturated porous media. The transport of introduced organisms was indicated by mass spectrometric analysis of groundwater samples, where the presence of C-13-enriched bacteria resulted in increased delta C-13 values of the samples, allowing specific and sensitive detection and enumeration of the bacteria of interest. We demonstrate the ability to produce highly C-13-enriched bacteria, present data indicating that results obtained with this approach accurately represent intact introduced bacteria, and include field data on the use of this stable isotope approach to monitor in situ bacterial transport. This detection strategy allows sensitive detection of an introduced, unmodified bacterial strain in the presence of the indigenous bacterial community, including itself in its unenriched form.