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Factors determining microbial colonization of liquid nitrogen storage tanks used for archiving biological samples

: Bajerski, F.; Bürger, A.; Glasmacher, B.; Keller, E.R.J.; Müller, K.; Mühldorfer, K.; Nagel, M.; Rüdel, H.; Müller, T.; Schenkel, J.; Overmann, J.

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Applied microbiology and biotechnology 104 (2020), Nr.1, S.131-144
ISSN: 0171-1741
ISSN: 0175-7598
ISSN: 1432-0614
Zeitschriftenaufsatz, Elektronische Publikation
Fraunhofer IME ()
biobanking; microbial contamination; Cryobank; cryopreservation; risk / quality management; safe storage; amplicon sequencing

The availability of bioresources is a precondition for life science research, medical applications, and diagnostics, but requires a dedicated quality management to guarantee reliable and safe storage. Anecdotal reports of bacterial isolates and sample contamination indicate that organisms may persist in liquid nitrogen (LN) storage tanks. To evaluate the safety status of cryocollections, we systematically screened organisms in the LN phase and in ice layers covering inner surfaces of storage tanks maintained in different biobanking facilities. We applied a culture-independent approach combining cell detection by epifluorescence microscopy with the amplification of group-specific marker genes and high-throughput sequencing of bacterial ribosomal genes. In the LN phase, neither cells nor bacterial 16S rRNA gene copy numbers were detectable (detection limit, 102 cells per ml, 103 gene copies per ml). In several cases, small numbers of bacteria of up to 104 cells per ml and up to 106 gene copies per ml, as well as Mycoplasma, or fungi were detected in the ice phase formed underneath the lids or accumulated at the bottom. The bacteria most likely originated from the stored materials themselves (Elizabethingia, Janthibacterium), the technical environment (Pseudomonas, Acinetobacter, Methylobacterium), or the human microbiome (Bacteroides, Streptococcus, Staphylococcus). In single cases, bacteria, Mycoplasma, fungi, and human cells were detected in the debris at the bottom of the storage tanks. In conclusion, the limited microbial load of the ice phase and in the debris of storage tanks can be effectively avoided by minimizing ice formation and by employing hermetically sealed sample containers.