Open Access Technical Note

Proposal for a method to estimate nutrient shock effects in bacteria

Nuno F Azevedo12*, Sofia M Bragança2, Lúcia C Simões2, Laura Cerqueira2, Carina Almeida12, Charles W Keevil3 and Maria J Vieira2

Author Affiliations

1 LEPAE, Department of Chemical Engineering, Faculty of Engineering, University of Porto, Rua Roberto Frias, 4200-465, Porto, Portugal

2 IBB-Institute for Biotechnology and Bioengineering, Centre for Biological Engineering, Universidade do Minho, Campus de Gualtar, 4710-057, Braga, Portugal

3 Environmental Healthcare Unit, Microbiology Group, School of Biological Sciences, University of Southampton, Bassett Crescent East, Southampton, SO16 7PX, United Kingdom

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BMC Research Notes 2012, 5:422  doi:10.1186/1756-0500-5-422

Published: 8 August 2012



Plating methods are still the golden standard in microbiology; however, some studies have shown that these techniques can underestimate the microbial concentrations and diversity. A nutrient shock is one of the mechanisms proposed to explain this phenomenon. In this study, a tentative method to assess nutrient shock effects was tested.


To estimate the extent of nutrient shock effects, two strains isolated from tap water (Sphingomonas capsulata and Methylobacterium sp.) and two culture collection strains (E. coli CECT 434 and Pseudomonas fluorescens ATCC 13525) were exposed both to low and high nutrient conditions for different times and then placed in low nutrient medium (R2A) and rich nutrient medium (TSA).

The average improvement (A.I.) of recovery between R2A and TSA for the different times was calculated to more simply assess the difference obtained in culturability between each medium. As expected, A.I. was higher when cells were plated after the exposition to water than when they were recovered from high-nutrient medium showing the existence of a nutrient shock for the diverse bacteria used. S. capsulata was the species most affected by this phenomenon.


This work provides a method to consistently determine the extent of nutrient shock effects on different microorganisms and hence quantify the ability of each species to deal with sudden increases in substrate concentration.

Nutrient shock; Osmotic shock; Nutrient stress; Substrate-accelerated death