Microfluidics and single-cell microscopy to study stochastic processes in bacteria

Curr Opin Microbiol. 2018 Jun;43:186-192. doi: 10.1016/j.mib.2017.12.004. Epub 2018 Feb 27.


Bacteria have molecules present in low and fluctuating numbers that randomize cell behaviors. Understanding these stochastic processes and their impact on cells has, until recently, been limited by the lack of single-cell measurement methods. Here, we review recent developments in microfluidics that enable following individual cells over long periods of time under precisely controlled conditions, and counting individual fluorescent molecules in many cells. We showcase discoveries that were made possible using these devices in various aspects of microbiology, such as antibiotic tolerance/persistence, cell-size control, cell-fate determination, DNA damage response, and synthetic biology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology
  • Bacteria / drug effects
  • Bacteria / metabolism
  • Bacteria / ultrastructure*
  • DNA Damage
  • Escherichia coli / genetics
  • Microfluidics / instrumentation
  • Microfluidics / methods*
  • Microscopy / instrumentation
  • Microscopy / methods*
  • Single-Cell Analysis / instrumentation
  • Single-Cell Analysis / methods*
  • Stochastic Processes
  • Synthetic Biology / methods


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents