A protocol for simultaneously interrogating bacterial viability and identity using in situ, culture-independent methods is described. Viability is assayed using ethidium monoazide (EMA) staining of cells with compromised membranes, and identity is determined using fluorescent in situ hybridization (FISH). Experiments with planktonic cultures were used to demonstrate the compatibility of EMA staining and FISH after covalently bonding EMA to nucleic acids by photoreaction. Applications to biofilm samples showed that diffusion limitations in the biofilm matrix were not problematic and that effective discrimination of viable target cells within a mixed microbial community was possible.

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