Quantifying Microorganisms at Low Concentrations Using Digital Holographic Microscopy (DHM)
Accurately detecting and counting sparse bacterial samples has many applications in the food, beverage, and pharmaceutical processing industries, in medical diagnostics, and for life detection by robotic missions to other planets and moons of the solar system. Currently, sparse bacterial samples are counted by culture plating or epifluorescence microscopy. Culture plates require long incubation times (days to weeks), and epifluorescence microscopy requires extensive staining and concentration of the sample. Here, we demonstrate how to use off-axis digital holographic microscopy (DHM) to enumerate bacteria in very dilute cultures (100-104 cells/mL). First, the construction of the custom DHM is discussed, along with detailed instructions on building a low-cost instrument. The principles of holography are discussed, and a statistical model is used to estimate how long videos should be to detect cells, based on the optical performance characteristics of the instrument and the concentration of the bacterial solution (Table 2). Video detection of cells at 105, 104, 103, and 100 cells/mL is demonstrated in real time using un-reconstructed holograms. Reconstruction of amplitude and phase images is demonstrated using an open-source software package.