Ethidium monoazide (EMA) was used to quantify DNA selectively from viable cells with healthy membrane/cell wall system, but not from dead cells, of a target bacterium in the aquatic environment using real-time PCR. Spiking experiments to determine the EMA treatment conditions showed that EMA treatment with EMA at 10–25 μg/ml and subsequent halogen light exposure for 2 min was suitable for selective quantification of DNA from viable cells in an aquatic sample using real-time PCR coupled with EMA treatment (real-time EMA-PCR). Optimized real-time EMA-PCR was applied in combination with culture-based method and conventional real-time PCR without EMA treatment to elucidate the behavior of an Escherichia coli strain inoculated into a pond water microcosm. Quantification results obtained using real-time EMA-PCR were lower than those by conventional real-time PCR without EMA treatment and higher than those by culture-based method. The results suggest that quantification by real-time EMA-PCR seemed to represent the viable population, which would partly include viable but non-culturable state bacteria. Real-time EMA-PCR optimized here can be a useful tool for selective monitoring of the viable population of a target bacterium in the aquatic environment, and thereby contribute to assessment of potential microbial risks generated from waterborne pathogenic bacteria.

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