A microfluidic system for long-term time-lapse microscopy studies of mycobacteria

Solmaz A. Golchin, James Stratford, Richard J. Curry, Johnjoe McFadden

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Phenotypic heterogeneity in bacterial populations is thought to contribute to a number of important phenomena including sporulation and persistence. The latter has clinical implications in many diseases such as tuberculosis, where persistence of Mycobacterium tuberculosis within the human host is believed to be the root cause of latent tuberculosis and the ability of a minority population of cells to survive antibiotic exposure, despite being genetically identical to the bulk population that are killed. However, phenotypic variations caused by non-genetic mechanisms are difficult to study because of the transient nature of the persistent state and thereby the requirement to observe individual cells in real-time. Recently, microfluidics, combined with time-lapse microscopy, has become a powerful tool for studying population heterogeneity in bacteria. However, growth and replication of mycobacterial cells provide particular problems for the development of microfluidic systems due to their tendency to grow in three dimensions. We here describe a novel microfluidic device for the observation of growth and antibiotic killing in individual mycobacterial cells. We constructed a microfluidic device suitable for studying single cell behavior in mycobacteria. The growth of single cells of Mycobacterium smegmatis expressing green fluorescent protein was monitored using a confocal laser scanning microscope. Within the device M. smegmatis cells were tightly confined within a hydrogel matrix thus promoting planar growth. Cell growth and killing was observed in the device with dead cells highlighted by uptake of propidium iodide. Conclusions/Significance. We demonstrate that our device allows real-time analysis and long-term culture of single cells of mycobacteria, and is able to support the study of cell death during the application of antibiotics. The device will allow observation of individual cells' cell genealogy to be determined and direct observation of rare states, such as persistence.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)489-496
    Number of pages8
    Issue number6
    Publication statusPublished - Nov 2012


    • Microfluidics
    • Mycobacteria
    • Polar growth
    • Time-lapse microscopy


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