Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Methodology article

Phylogenetic group- and species-specific oligonucleotide probes for single-cell detection of lactic acid bacteria in oral biofilms

Beatrice Quevedo1, Elin Giertsen2, Vincent Zijnge3, Helga Lüthi-Schaller1, Bernhard Guggenheim1, Thomas Thurnheer1 and Rudolf Gmür1*

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Oral Biology, Section of Oral Microbiology and General Immunology, University of Zürich Plattenstrasse 11, 8032 Zürich, Switzerland

2 Institute of Clinical Dentistry, Department of Cariology and Gerodontology, Faculty of Dentistry, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway

3 Center for Dentistry and Oral Hygiene and Department of Medical Microbiology, University of Groningen, Groningen, The Netherlands

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Microbiology 2011, 11:14  doi:10.1186/1471-2180-11-14

Published: 19 January 2011



The purpose of this study was to design and evaluate fluorescent in situ hybridization (FISH) probes for the single-cell detection and enumeration of lactic acid bacteria, in particular organisms belonging to the major phylogenetic groups and species of oral lactobacilli and to Abiotrophia/Granulicatella.


As lactobacilli are known for notorious resistance to probe penetration, probe-specific assay protocols were experimentally developed to provide maximum cell wall permeability, probe accessibility, hybridization stringency, and fluorescence intensity. The new assays were then applied in a pilot study to three biofilm samples harvested from variably demineralized bovine enamel discs that had been carried in situ for 10 days by different volunteers. Best probe penetration and fluorescent labeling of reference strains were obtained after combined lysozyme and achromopeptidase treatment followed by exposure to lipase. Hybridization stringency had to be established strictly for each probe. Thereafter all probes showed the expected specificity with reference strains and labeled the anticipated morphotypes in dental plaques. Applied to in situ grown biofilms the set of probes detected only Lactobacillus fermentum and bacteria of the Lactobacillus casei group. The most cariogenic biofilm contained two orders of magnitude higher L. fermentum cell numbers than the other biofilms. Abiotrophia/Granulicatella and streptococci from the mitis group were found in all samples at high levels, whereas Streptococcus mutans was detected in only one sample in very low numbers.


Application of these new group- and species-specific FISH probes to oral biofilm-forming lactic acid bacteria will allow a clearer understanding of the supragingival biome, its spatial architecture and of structure-function relationships implicated during plaque homeostasis and caries development. The probes should prove of value far beyond the field of oral microbiology, as many of them detect non-oral species and phylogenetic groups of importance in a variety of medical conditions and the food industry.