Sensitive and Accurate Differentiation of Extracellular Polymeric Substance Hydrolysis Using Flow Cytometry during Biofilm Extracellular Polymeric Substance Extraction

Xiaocai Cui, Tian Ren, Qingqing Ren, Beibei Wu, Yun Zhou, Siqing Xia, Bruce E. Rittmann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Extracellular polymeric substances (EPS) affect the formation, properties, and function of biofilms. Understanding the roles of EPS in biofilm-related processes depends on reliable extraction and evaluation methods. However, differentiating true EPS from intracellular organic polymers released by cell lysis has proven to be difficult during EPS extraction. In this study, thermal and cation exchange resin (CER) treatments were used to extract biofilm EPS. SYTOX Green (SG) dye was used to stain nucleic acid (NA), and the enhanced fluorescence signal (FS) from the NA-SG complex was sensitively recorded by flow cytometry (FC). Results showed that thermal extraction could achieve effective EPS release, but a higher temperature and longer time caused a significant cell activity decline, protein denaturation, and cell lysis. In contrast, CER extraction had no effects on cell activity and organics denaturation, and it only caused minor cell lysis at a high CER dose. Combining all the results indicates that CER extraction using 70 g-CER/g-VSS for 2 h provided reliable and efficient extraction of biofilm EPS: high EPS extraction efficiency with minimal EPS denaturation, cell lysis, and loss of cell activity. FC combined with SG staining should be applicable for evaluating the effectiveness of EPS extraction from any microbial aggregates.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalACS ES and T Water
StateAccepted/In press - 2022


  • biofilm
  • cell lysis
  • extracellular polymeric substances
  • flow cytometry
  • fluorescence staining

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemical Engineering (miscellaneous)
  • Chemistry (miscellaneous)
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Water Science and Technology

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