Isolation, Incubation, and Parallel Functional Testing and Identification by FISH of Rare Microbial Single-Copy Cells From Multi-Species Mixtures Using the Combination of Chemistrode and Stochastic Confinement

Lab Chip. 2009 Aug 7;9(15):2153-62. doi: 10.1039/b904958d. Epub 2009 May 14.


This paper illustrates a plug-based microfluidic approach combining the technique of the chemistrode and the principle of stochastic confinement, which can be used to i) starting from a mixture of cells, stochastically isolate single cells into plugs, ii) incubate the plugs to grow clones of the individual cells without competition among different clones, iii) split the plugs into arrays of identical daughter plugs, where each plug contained clones of the original cell, and iv) analyze each array by an independent technique, including cellulase assays, cultivation, cryo-preservation, Gram staining, and Fluorescence In Situ Hybridization (FISH). Functionally, this approach is equivalent to simultaneously assaying the clonal daughter cells by multiple killing and non-killing methods. A new protocol for single-cell FISH, a killing method, was developed to identify isolated cells of Paenibacillus curdlanolyticus in one array of daughter plugs using a 16S rRNA probe, Pc196. At the same time, live copies of P. curdlanolyticus in another array were obtained for cultivation. Among technical advances, this paper reports a chemistrode that enables sampling of nanoliter volumes directly from environmental specimens, such as soil slurries. In addition, a method for analyzing plugs is described: an array of droplets is deposited on the surface, and individual plugs are injected into the droplets of the surface array to induce a reaction and enable microscopy without distortions associated with curvature of plugs. The overall approach is attractive for identifying rare, slow growing microorganisms and would complement current methods to cultivate unculturable microbes from environmental samples.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Bacteriological Techniques / instrumentation
  • Bacteriological Techniques / methods*
  • Equipment Design
  • Escherichia coli / genetics
  • Escherichia coli / isolation & purification
  • In Situ Hybridization, Fluorescence / instrumentation
  • In Situ Hybridization, Fluorescence / methods*
  • Microfluidic Analytical Techniques / instrumentation
  • Microfluidic Analytical Techniques / methods*
  • Paenibacillus / genetics
  • Paenibacillus / isolation & purification*
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / analysis
  • Soil Microbiology
  • Stochastic Processes


  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S