Tools and methods for high-throughput single-cell imaging with the mother machine

Elife. 2024 Apr 18:12:RP88463. doi: 10.7554/eLife.88463.


Despite much progress, image processing remains a significant bottleneck for high-throughput analysis of microscopy data. One popular platform for single-cell time-lapse imaging is the mother machine, which enables long-term tracking of microbial cells under precisely controlled growth conditions. While several mother machine image analysis pipelines have been developed in the past several years, adoption by a non-expert audience remains a challenge. To fill this gap, we implemented our own software, MM3, as a plugin for the multidimensional image viewer napari. napari-MM3 is a complete and modular image analysis pipeline for mother machine data, which takes advantage of the high-level interactivity of napari. Here, we give an overview of napari-MM3 and test it against several well-designed and widely used image analysis pipelines, including BACMMAN and DeLTA. Researchers often analyze mother machine data with custom scripts using varied image analysis methods, but a quantitative comparison of the output of different pipelines has been lacking. To this end, we show that key single-cell physiological parameter correlations and distributions are robust to the choice of analysis method. However, we also find that small changes in thresholding parameters can systematically alter parameters extracted from single-cell imaging experiments. Moreover, we explicitly show that in deep learning-based segmentation, 'what you put is what you get' (WYPIWYG) - that is, pixel-level variation in training data for cell segmentation can propagate to the model output and bias spatial and temporal measurements. Finally, while the primary purpose of this work is to introduce the image analysis software that we have developed over the last decade in our lab, we also provide information for those who want to implement mother machine-based high-throughput imaging and analysis methods in their research.

Keywords: E. coli; bacterial physiology; image analysis; infectious disease; microbiology; microfluidics; mother machine.

MeSH terms

  • Culture
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted*
  • Microscopy
  • Mothers*
  • Research Personnel

Associated data

  • Dryad/10.5061/dryad.2fqz612xd