Microfluidics-Based Analysis of Contact-dependent Bacterial Interactions

Bio Protoc. 2018 Aug 20;8(16):e2970. doi: 10.21769/BioProtoc.2970.


Bacteria in nature live in complex communities with multiple cell types and spatially-dependent interactions. Studying cells in well-mixed environments such as shaking culture tubes or flasks cannot capture these spatial dynamics, but cells growing in full-fledged biofilms are difficult to observe in real time. We present here a protocol for observing time-resolved, multi-species interactions at single-cell resolution. The protocol involves growing bacterial cells in a near monolayer in a microfluidic device. As a demonstration, we describe in particular observing the dynamic interactions between E. coli and Acinetobacter baylyi. In this case, the protocol is capable of observing both contact-dependent lysis of E. coli by A. baylyi via the Type VI Secretion System (T6SS) and subsequent functional horizontal gene transfer (HGT) of genes from E. coli to A. baylyi.

Keywords: Acinetobacter; Antibiotic resistance; Biofilm; Horizontal gene transfer (HGT); Microbial ecology; Microfluidics; Natural competence; Type VI secretion system (T6SS).