Photobleaching of the fluorophore fluorescein in an aqueous solution is dependent on the oxygen concentration. Therefore, the time-dependent bleaching behavior can be used to measure of dissolved oxygen concentrations. The method can be combined with epi-fluorescence microscopy. The molecular states of the fluorophore can be expressed by a three-state energy model. This leads to a set of differential equations which describe the photobleaching behavior of fluorescein. The numerical solution of these equations shows that in a conventional wide-field fluorescence microscope, the fluorescence of fluorescein will fade out faster at low than at high oxygen concentration. Further simulation showed that a simple ratio function of different time-points during a fluorescence decay recorded during photobleaching could be used to describe oxygen concentrations in an aqueous solution. By careful choice of dye concentration and excitation light intensity the sensitivity in the oxygen concentration range of interest can be optimized. In the simulations, the estimation of oxygen concentration by the ratio function was very little affected by the pH value in the range of pH 6.5-8.5. Filming the fluorescence decay by a charge-coupled-device (ccd) camera mounted on a fluorescence microscope allowed a pixelwise estimation of the ratio function in a microscopic image. Use of a microsensor and oxygen-consuming bacteria in a sample chamber enabled the calibration of the system for quantification of absolute oxygen concentrations. The method was demonstrated on nitrifying biofilms growing on snail and mussel shells, showing clear effects of metabolic activity on oxygen concentrations.
Microscopy Research and Technique, 2014, Vol 77, Issue 5, p. 341-347