Monitoring gene expression dynamics on the single cell level provides important information on cellular heterogeneity and stochasticity, and potentially allows for more accurate quantitation of gene expression processes. We here study bacterial senders and receivers genetically engineered with components of the quorum sensing system derived from Aliivibrio fischeri on the single cell level using microfluidics-based bacterial chemostats and fluorescence video microscopy. We track large numbers of bacteria over extended periods of time, which allows us to determine bacterial lineages and filter out subpopulations within a heterogeneous population. We quantitatively determine the dynamic gene expression response of receiver bacteria to varying amounts of the quorum sensing inducer N-3-oxo-C6-homoserine lactone (AHL). From this we construct AHL response curves and characterize gene expression dynamics of whole bacterial populations by investigating the statistical distribution of gene expression activity over time. The bacteria are found to display heterogeneous induction behavior within the population. We therefore also characterize gene expression in a homogeneous bacterial subpopulation by focusing on single cell trajectories derived only from bacteria with similar induction behavior. The response at the single cell level is found to be more cooperative than that obtained for the heterogeneous total population. For the analysis of systems containing both AHL senders and receiver cells, we utilize the receiver cells as ‘bacterial sensors’ for AHL. Based on a simple gene expression model and the response curves obtained in receiver-only experiments, the effective AHL concentration established by the senders and their ‘sending power’ is determined.
Ramalho, T., Meyer, A., Mückl, A., Kapsner, K., Gerland, U., & Simmel, F. C. (2016). Single Cell Analysis of a Bacterial Sender-Receiver System. PloS One, 11(1), e0145829. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0145829