Heterogeneity is a ubiquitous feature of biological systems. A complete understanding of such systems requires a method for uniquely identifying and tracking individual components and their interactions with each other. We have developed a novel method of uniquely tagging individual cells in vivo with a genetic 'barcode' that can be recovered by DNA sequencing. Our method is a two-component system comprised of a genetic barcode cassette whose fragments are shuffled by Rci, a site-specific DNA invertase. The system is highly scalable, with the potential to generate theoretical diversities in the billions. We demonstrate the feasibility of this technique in Escherichia coli. Currently, this method could be employed to track the dynamics of populations of microbes through various bottlenecks. Advances of this method should prove useful in tracking interactions of cells within a network, and/or heterogeneity within complex biological samples.
© The Author(s) 2014. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Nucleic Acids Research.