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Flow cytometry in combination with fluorescent molecular markers 5- (and 6-) carboxyfluorescein succinimidylester (CFSE) and propidium iodide (PI) have been applied to determine lag times, numbers of cell divisions and injury after mild heat (50°C, 5 min) and nisin treatments (0.1 and 1.0 μg ml−1) of Lactobacillus plantarum. Initial labelling with covalently bound dye CFSE (20 and 100 μg ml−1) allowed determination of lag times and cell proliferation for up to eight generations. Double-labelling with CFSE and PI (5 μg ml−1) provided additional information about damage levels and distributions within populations. Subpopulations surviving treatment could be identified easily and selectively sorted.