Tracking the stochastic growth of bacterial populations in microfluidic droplets

Daniel Taylor, Nia Verdon*, Peter Lomax, Rosalind J Allen, Simon Titmuss

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Bacterial growth in microfluidic droplets is relevant in biotechnology, in microbial ecology, and in understanding stochastic population dynamics in small populations. However, it has proved challenging to automate measurement of absolute bacterial numbers within droplets, forcing the use of proxy measures for population size. Here we present a microfluidic device and imaging protocol that allows high-resolution imaging of thousands of droplets, such that individual bacteria stay in the focal plane and can be counted automatically. Using this approach, we track the stochastic growth of hundreds of replicate Escherichia coli populations within droplets. {We find that, for early times, the statistics of the growth trajectories obey the predictions of the Bellman-Harris model, in which there is no inheritance of division time. Our approach should allow further testing of models for stochastic growth dynamics, as well as contributing to broader applications of droplet-based bacterial culture.
Original languageEnglish
Article number026003
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
JournalPhysical Biology
Issue number2
Early online date18 Jan 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2022

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • bacterial growth
  • microfluidic droplets
  • stochastic population dynamics
  • Microfluidics/methods
  • Bacteria


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