Vibrio parahaemolyticus is a gram-negative, halophilic bacterium indigenous to marine and estuarine environments and it is capable of causing food and water-borne illness in humans. It can also cause disease in marine animals, including cultured species. Currently, culture-based techniques are used for quantification of V. parahaemolyticus in environmental samples; however, these can be misleading as they fail to detect V. parahaemolyticus in a viable but nonculturable (VBNC) state which leads to an underestimation of the population density. In this study, we used a novel fluorescence visualization technique, called recognition of individual gene fluorescence in situ hybridization (RING-FISH), which targets chromosomal DNA for enumeration. A polynucleotide probe labeled with Cyanine 3 (Cy3) was created corresponding to the ubiquitous V. parahaemolyticus gene that codes for thermolabile hemolysin (tlh). When coupled with the Kogure method to distinguish viable from dead cells, RING-FISH probes reliably enumerated total, viable V. parahaemolyticus. The probe was tested for sensitivity and specificity against a pure culture of tlh+, tdh-, trh-V. parahaemolyticus, pure cultures of Vibrio vulnificus, Vibrio harveyi, Vibrio alginolyticus and Vibrio fischeri, and a mixed environmental sample. This research will provide additional tools for a better understanding of the risk these environmental organisms pose to human health. © 2011 Elsevier B.V.
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