Issue 5, 2016

Leveraging a high resolution microfluidic assay reveals insights into pathogenic fungal spore germination


Germination of spores into actively growing cells is a process essential for survival and pathogenesis of many microbes. Molecular mechanisms governing germination, however, are poorly understood in part because few tools exist for evaluating and interrogating the process. Here, we introduce an assay that leverages developments in microfluidic technology and image processing to quantitatively measure germination with unprecedented resolution, assessing both individual cells and the population as a whole. Using spores from Cryptococcus neoformans, a leading cause of fatal fungal disease in humans, we developed a platform to evaluate spores as they undergo morphological changes during differentiation into vegetatively growing yeast. The assay uses pipet-accessible microdevices that can be arrayed for efficient testing of diverse microenvironmental variables, including temperature and nutrients. We discovered that temperature influences germination rate, a carbon source alone is sufficient to induce germination, and the addition of a nitrogen source sustains it. Using this information, we optimized the assay for use with fungal growth inhibitors to pinpoint stages of germination inhibition. Unexpectedly, the clinical antifungal drugs amphotericin B and fluconazole did not significantly alter the process or timing of the transition from spore to yeast, indicating that vegetative growth and germination are distinct processes in C. neoformans. Finally, we used the high temporal resolution of the assay to determine the precise defect in a slow-germination mutant. Combining advances in microfluidics with a robust fungal molecular genetic system allowed us to identify and alter key temporal, morphological, and molecular events that occur during fungal germination.

Graphical abstract: Leveraging a high resolution microfluidic assay reveals insights into pathogenic fungal spore germination

Supplementary files

Article information

Article type
20 Jan 2016
22 Mar 2016
First published
24 Mar 2016

Integr. Biol., 2016,8, 603-615