Isothermal calorimetry measures the heat flow of biological processes, which is proportional to the rate at which a given chemical or physical process takes place. Modern isothermal microcalorimeters make measurements of less than a microwatt of heat flow possible. As a result, as few as 10 000-100 000 active bacterial cells in culture are sufficient to produce a real-time signal dynamically related to the number of cells present and their activity. Specimens containing bacteria need little preparation, and isothermal microcalorimetry (IMC) is a nondestructive method. After IMC measurements, the undisturbed samples can be evaluated by any other means desired. In this review, we present a basic description of microcalorimetry and examples of microbiological applications of IMC for medical and environmental microbiology. In both fields, IMC has been used to quantify microbial activity over periods of hours or even days. Finally, the recent development of highly parallel instruments (up to 48 channels) and the constantly decreasing costs of equipment have made IMC increasingly attractive for microbiology. Miniaturization of isothermal calorimeters provides an even wider range of possibilities.
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