Nile red detection of bacterial hydrocarbons and ketones in a high-throughput format

Neissa M. Pinzon, Kelly G. Aukema, Jeffrey A. Gralnick, Lawrence P. Wackett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


A method for use in high-throughput screening of bacteria for the production of long-chain hydrocarbons and ketones by monitoring fluorescent light emission in the presence of Nile red is described. Nile red has previously been used to screen for polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB) and fatty acid esters, but this is the first report of screening for recombinant bacteria making hydrocarbons or ketones. The microtiter plate assay was evaluated using wild-type and recombinant strains of Shewanella oneidensis and Escherichia coli expressing the enzyme OleA, previously shown to initiate hydrocarbon biosynthesis. The strains expressing exogenous Stenotrophomonas maltophilia oleA, with increased levels of ketone production as determined by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry, were distinguished with Nile red fluorescence. Confocal microscopy images of S. oneidensis oleA-expressing strains stained with Nile red were consistent with a membrane localization of the ketones. This differed from Nile red staining of bacterial PHB or algal lipid droplets that showed intracellular inclusion bodies. These results demonstrated the applicability of Nile red in a high-throughput technique for the detection of bacterial hydrocarbons and ketones. IMPORTANCE: In recent years, there has been renewed interest in advanced biofuel sources such as bacterial hydrocarbon production. Previous studies used solvent extraction of bacterial cultures followed by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) to detect and quantify ketones and hydrocarbons (Beller HR, Goh EB, Keasling JD, Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 76:1212-1223, 2010; Sukovich DJ, Seffernick JL, Richman JE, Gralnick JA, Wackett LP, Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 76:3850-3862, 2010). While these analyses are powerful and accurate, their labor-intensive nature makes them intractable to high-throughput screening; therefore, methods for rapid identification of bacterial strains that are overproducing hydrocarbons are needed. The use of highthroughput evaluation of bacterial and algal hydrophobic molecule production via Nile red fluorescence from lipids and esters was extended in this study to include hydrocarbons and ketones. This work demonstrated accurate, high-throughput detection of high-level bacterial long-chain ketone and hydrocarbon production by screening for increased fluorescence of the hydrophobic dye Nile red.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere00109-11
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2011


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