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Issue 4, 2019
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Femtoliter droplet confinement of Streptococcus pneumoniae: bacterial genetic transformation by cell–cell interaction in droplets

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Abstract

Streptococcus pneumoniae (pneumococcus), a deadly bacterial human pathogen, uses genetic transformation to gain antibiotic resistance. Genetic transformation begins when a pneumococcal strain in a transient specialized physiological state called competence, attacks and lyses another strain, releasing DNA, taking up fragments of the liberated DNA, and integrating divergent genes into its genome. While many steps of the process are known and generally understood, the precise mechanism of this natural genetic transformation is not fully understood and the current standard strategies to study it have limitations in specifically controlling and observing the process in detail. To overcome these limitations, we have developed a droplet microfluidic system for isolating individual episodes of bacterial transformation between two confined cells of pneumococcus. By encapsulating the cells in a 10 μm diameter aqueous droplet, we provide an improved experimental model of genetic transformation, as both participating cells can be identified, and the released DNA is spatially restricted near the attacking strain. Specifically, the bacterial cells, one rifampicin (R) resistant, the other novobiocin (N) and spectinomycin (S) resistant were encapsulated in droplets carried by the fluorinated oil FC-40 with 5% surfactant and allowed to carry out competence-specific attack and DNA uptake (and consequently gain antibiotic resistances) within the droplets. The droplets were then broken, and recombinants were recovered by selective plating with antibiotics. The new droplet system encapsulated 2 or more cells in a droplet with a probability up to 71%, supporting gene transfer rates comparable to standard mixtures of unconfined cells. Thus, confinement in droplets allows characterization of natural genetic transformation during a strictly defined interaction between two confined cells.

Graphical abstract: Femtoliter droplet confinement of Streptococcus pneumoniae: bacterial genetic transformation by cell–cell interaction in droplets

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Publication details

The article was received on 14 Dec 2018, accepted on 11 Jan 2019 and first published on 14 Jan 2019


Article type: Paper
DOI: 10.1039/C8LC01367E
Citation: Lab Chip, 2019,19, 682-692

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    Femtoliter droplet confinement of Streptococcus pneumoniae: bacterial genetic transformation by cell–cell interaction in droplets

    T. Lam, M. D. Brennan, D. A. Morrison and D. T. Eddington, Lab Chip, 2019, 19, 682
    DOI: 10.1039/C8LC01367E

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