Live-cell imaging tool optimization to study gene expression levels and dynamics in single cells of Bacillus cereus

Appl Environ Microbiol. 2013 Sep;79(18):5643-51. doi: 10.1128/AEM.01347-13. Epub 2013 Jul 12.


Single-cell methods are a powerful application in microbial research to study the molecular mechanism underlying phenotypic heterogeneity and cell-to-cell variability. Here, we describe the optimization and application of single-cell time-lapse fluorescence microscopy for the food spoilage bacterium Bacillus cereus specifically. This technique is useful to study cellular development and adaptation, gene expression, protein localization, protein mobility, and cell-to-cell communication over time at the single-cell level. By adjusting existing protocols, we have enabled the visualization of growth and development of single B. cereus cells within a microcolony over time. Additionally, several different fluorescent reporter proteins were tested in order to select the most suitable green fluorescent protein (GFP) and red fluorescent protein (RFP) candidates for visualization of growth stage- and cell compartment-specific gene expression in B. cereus. With a case study concerning cotD expression during sporulation, we demonstrate the applicability of time-lapse fluorescence microscopy. It enables the assessment of gene expression levels, dynamics, and heterogeneity at the single-cell level. We show that cotD is not heterogeneously expressed among cells of a subpopulation. Furthermore, we discourage using plasmid-based reporter fusions for such studies, due to an introduced heterogeneity through copy number differences. This stresses the importance of using single-copy integrated reporter fusions for single-cell studies.

Publication types

  • Validation Study

MeSH terms

  • Bacillus cereus / chemistry
  • Bacillus cereus / genetics*
  • Bacillus cereus / metabolism
  • Bacillus cereus / physiology*
  • Gene Expression Profiling / methods*
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence / methods*
  • Single-Cell Analysis / methods*
  • Time-Lapse Imaging / methods*