The direct viable count method first described by Kogure et al. (Can. J. Microbiol. 25:415-420, 1979) was improved by using an antibiotic cocktail instead of nalidixic acid alone. We screened 100 marine isolates from two coastal areas for their sensitivities to five replication-inhibiting antibiotics, including four quinolones (nalidixic, piromidic, and pipemidic acids and ciprofloxacin) and one (beta)-lactam (cephalexin). It was shown that growth inhibition of all isolates cannot be readily achieved by using a single antibiotic. Inhibition was much more efficient when all the antibiotics were combined, making it possible to use this method with natural communities. In combination, the concentration of each antibiotic could be lowered and the incubation time could be increased without any growth. Under such conditions, it was shown that the fraction of substrate-responsive cells within natural marine communities is much greater (1 to 2 orders of magnitude) than those reported by traditional procedures. Furthermore, the new procedure made substrate-responsive cells more clearly distinguishable. These improvements resulted in an increased incubation time and were related to metabolic expression of slow-growing cells and/or to the recovery of starved cells. The increased fraction of viable cells within marine communities has ecological implications on the metabolic role of nonculturable cells
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