This study presents an application of flow cytometry to evaluate rapidly the viable micro-organisms in grape juice. In this method, viable cells are firstly specitically labelled with a fluorescent reagent. The sample is then injected into the flow cytometer where the labelled micro-organisms are individually illuminated by a laser beam. The emission of fluorescence is measured. The system counts the number of fluorescent events and prints out a histogram of the fluorescence intensity which is characteristic of the micro-organism being analysed. In laboratory conditions, preliminary trials have been undertaken with an artificially inoculated grape juice with pure yeast and bacteria cultures. This method succeeded in counting simultaneously yeasts and bacteria within 15 minutes, with a high degree of sensitivity, 5.103 yeasts perml and 5.104 bacteria per ml. This technique can also be applied to the detection of mould contamination and the test has been done with Botrytis spores. The method makes direct cell counts possible and is capable of analysing 30 samples per hour. It can be automatised and easily used in industrial laboratory. During the last harvest, more than a thousand of must samples were controled using this technique. The results let to determine the yeast contamination level of a grape juice tank even before unloading. The results obtained by flow cytometry were compared to the plate count reference method. The correlation between cytometry and count by plate culture was 99 p. cent for the threshold of 5.1 04 yeasts/ml which seemed to point out a high contamination. By using this flow cytometry method during the harvest period, the results were supplied in real time. This allowed a rapid selection of the musts, depending upon the scale of their contamination and improved the quality of the wine by corrective actions.
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