Reliable measurement of E. coli single cell fluorescence distribution using a standard microscope set-up

Marilisa Cortesi*, Lucia Bandiera, Alice Pasini, Alessandro Bevilacqua, Alessandro Gherardi, Simone Furini, Emanuele Giordano

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Background: Quantifying gene expression at single cell level is fundamental for the complete characterization of synthetic gene circuits, due to the significant impact of noise and inter-cellular variability on the system's functionality. Commercial set-ups that allow the acquisition of fluorescent signal at single cell level (flow cytometers or quantitative microscopes) are expensive apparatuses that are hardly affordable by small laboratories. Methods: A protocol that makes a standard optical microscope able to acquire quantitative, single cell, fluorescent data from a bacterial population transformed with synthetic gene circuitry is presented. Single cell fluorescence values, acquired with a microscope set-up and processed with custom-made software, are compared with results that were obtained with a flow cytometer in a bacterial population transformed with the same gene circuitry. Results: The high correlation between data from the two experimental set-ups, with a correlation coefficient computed over the tested dynamic range > 0.99, proves that a standard optical microscope- when coupled with appropriate software for image processing- might be used for quantitative single-cell fluorescence measurements. The calibration of the set-up, together with its validation, is described. Conclusions: The experimental protocol described in this paper makes quantitative measurement of single cell fluorescence accessible to laboratories equipped with standard optical microscope set-ups. Our method allows for an affordable measurement/quantification of intercellular variability, whose better understanding of this phenomenon will improve our comprehension of cellular behaviors and the design of synthetic gene circuits. All the required software is freely available to the synthetic biology community (MUSIQ Microscope flUorescence SIngle cell Quantification).

Original languageEnglish
Article number8
JournalJournal of Biological Engineering
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 20 Feb 2017

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Fluorescence microscopy
  • Phenotypic noise
  • Single-cell fluorescence
  • Synthetic biology


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