Investigating the physiology of viable but non-culturable bacteria by microfluidics and time-lapse microscopy.
© Pagliara et al. 2017 Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver (http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.
BACKGROUND: Clonal microbial populations often harbor rare phenotypic variants that are typically hidden within the majority of the remaining cells, but are crucial for the population's resilience to external perturbations. Persister and viable but non-culturable (VBNC) cells are two important clonal bacterial subpopulations that can survive antibiotic treatment. Both persister and VBNC cells pose a serious threat to human health. However, unlike persister cells, which quickly resume growth following drug removal, VBNC cells can remain non-growing for prolonged periods of time, thus eluding detection via traditional microbiological assays. Therefore, understanding the molecular mechanisms underlying the formation of VBNC cells requires the characterization of the clonal population with single-cell resolution. A combination of microfluidics, time-lapse microscopy, and fluorescent reporter strains offers the perfect platform for investigating individual cells while manipulating their environment. METHODS: Here, we report a novel single-cell approach to investigate VBNC cells. We perform drug treatment, bacterial culturing, and live/dead staining in series by using transcriptional reporter strains and novel adaptations to the mother machine technology. Since we track each cell throughout the experiment, we are able to quantify the size, morphology and fluorescence that each VBNC cell displayed before, during and after drug treatment. RESULTS: We show that VBNC cells are not dead or dying cells but share similar phenotypic features with persister cells, suggesting a link between these two subpopulations, at least in the Escherichia coli strain under investigation. We strengthen this link by demonstrating that, before drug treatment, both persister and VBNC cells can be distinguished from the remainder of the population by their lower fluorescence when using a reporter strain for tnaC, encoding the leader peptide of the tnaCAB operon responsible for tryptophan metabolism. CONCLUSION: Our data demonstrates the suitability of our approach for studying the physiology of non-growing cells in response to external perturbations. Our approach will allow the identification of novel biomarkers for the isolation of VBNC and persister cells and will open new opportunities to map the detailed biochemical makeup of these clonal subpopulations.
This work was supported by a Royal Society Research Grant (RG140203), a Welcome Trust ISSF (WT097835/Z/11/Z) and a Start up Grant from the University of Exeter awarded to SP. AS acknowledges support from the BBSRC through a SWBio-DTP studentship (BB/M009122/1). JM was generously supported by a Wellcome Trust Institutional Strategic Support Award (WT097835MF). This work was partly supported by BBSRC award BB/1024631/1 to RWT.
This is the final version of the article. Available from BioMed Central via the DOI in this record.
Vol. 15, pp. 121 -
Place of publication