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Journal of Applied Physics






Nanosecond single-pulse laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS) has been used to discriminate between two different genera of Gram-negative bacteria and between several strains of the Escherichia coli bacterium based on the relative concentration of trace inorganic elements in the bacteria. Of particular importance in all such studies to date has been the role of divalent cations, specifically Ca 2+ and Mg 2+, which are present in the membranes of Gram-negative bacteria and act to aggregate the highly polar lipopolysaccharide molecules. We have demonstrated that the source of emission from Ca and Mg atoms observed in LIBS plasmas from bacteria is at least partially located at the outer membrane by intentionally altering membrane biochemistry and correlating these changes with the observed changes in the LIBS spectra. The definitive assignment of some fraction of the LIBS emission to the outer membrane composition establishes a potential serological, or surface-antigen, basis for the laser-based identification. E. coli and Pseudomonas aeruginosa were cultured in three nutrient media: trypticase soy agar as a control, a MacConkey agar with a 0.01% concentration of bile salts including sodium deoxycholate, and a trypticase soy agar with a 0.4% deoxycholate concentration. The higher concentration of deoxycholate is known to disrupt bacterial outer membrane integrity and was expected to induce changes in the observed LIBS spectra. Altered LIBS emission was observed for bacteria cultured in this 0.4% medium and laser ablated in an all-argon environment. These spectra evidenced a reduced calcium emission and in the case of one species, a reduced magnesium emission. Culturing on the lower (0.01%) concentration of bile salts altered the LIBS spectra for both the P. aeruginosa and two strains of E. coli in a highly reproducible way, although not nearly as significantly as culturing in the higher concentration of deoxycholate did. This was possibly due to the accumulation of divalent cations around the bacteria by the formation of an extracellular polysaccharide capsule. Lastly, a discriminant function analysis demonstrated that in spite of alterations in the LIBS spectrum induced by growth in the three different media, the analysis could correctly identify all samples better than 90% of the time. This encouraging result illustrates the potential utility of LIBS as a rapid bacteriological identification technology. © 2009 American Institute of Physics.


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