JW Young, JCW Locke, A Altinok, N Rosenfeld, T Bacarian, PS Swain, E Mjolsness, MB Elowitz
Quantitative single-cell time-lapse microscopy is a powerful method for analyzing gene circuit dynamics and heterogeneous cell behavior. We describe the application of this method to imaging bacteria by using an automated microscopy system. This protocol has been used to analyze sporulation and competence differentiation in Bacillus subtilis, and to quantify gene regulation and its fluctuations in individual Escherichia coli cells. The protocol involves seeding and growing bacteria on small agarose pads and imaging the resulting microcolonies. Images are then reviewed and analyzed using our laboratory's custom MATLAB analysis code, which segments and tracks cells in a frame-to-frame method. This process yields quantitative expression data on cell lineages, which can illustrate dynamic expression profiles and facilitate mathematical models of gene circuits. With fast-growing bacteria, such as E. coli or B. subtilis, image acquisition can be completed in 1 d, with an additional 1-2 d for progressing through the analysis procedure.