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Kaletta, Judith; Pickl, Carolin; Griebler, Christian; Klingl, Andreas; Kurmayer, Rainer; Deng, Li (2020): A rigorous assessment and comparison of enumeration methods for environmental viruses. In: Scientific Reports, Vol. 10, No. 1, 18625
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Determining exact viral titers in a given sample is essential for many environmental and clinical applications, e.g., for studying viral ecology or application of bacteriophages for food safety. However, virus quantification is not a simple task, especially for complex environmental samples. While clonal viral isolates can be quantified with relative high accuracy using virus-specific methods, i.e., plaque assay or quantitative real-time PCR, these methods are not valid for complex and diverse environmental samples. Moreover, it is not yet known how precisely laser-based methods, i.e., epifluorescence microscopy, flow cytometry, and nanoparticle tracking analysis, quantify environmental viruses. In the present study, we compared five state-of-the-art viral quantification methods by enumerating four model viral isolates of different genome and size characteristics as well as four different environmental water samples. Although Nanoparticle tracking analysis combined with gentle staining at 30 degrees C could be confirmed by this study to be a reliable quantification technique for tested environmental samples, environmental samples still lack an universally applicable and accurate quantification method. Special attention has to be put on optimal sample concentrations as well as optimized sample preparations, which are specific for each method. As our results show the inefficiency when enumerating small, or single-stranded DNA or RNA viruses, the global population of viruses is presumably higher than expected.