High-Throughput Monitoring of Bacterial Cell Density in Nanoliter Droplets: Label-Free Detection of Unmodified Gram-Positive and Gram-Negative Bacteria

Anal. Chem 2021 | 93, 2, 843-850

Natalia Pacocha, Jakub Bogusławski, Michał Horka, Karol Makuch, Kamil Liżewski, Maciej Wojtkowski, and Piotr Garstecki


Droplet microfluidics disrupted analytical biology with the introduction of digital polymerase chain reaction and single-cell sequencing. The same technology may also bring important innovation in the analysis of bacteria, including antibiotic susceptibility testing at the single-cell level. Still, despite promising demonstrations, the lack of a high-throughput label-free method of detecting bacteria in nanoliter droplets prohibits analysis of the most interesting strains and widespread use of droplet technologies in analytical microbiology. We use a sensitive and fast measurement of scattered light from nanoliter droplets to demonstrate reliable detection of the proliferation of encapsulated bacteria. We verify the sensitivity of the method by simultaneous readout of fluorescent signals from bacteria expressing fluorescent proteins and demonstrate label-free readout on unlabeled Gram-negative and Gram-positive species. Our approach requires neither genetic modification of the cells nor the addition of chemical markers of metabolism. It is compatible with a wide range of bacterial species of clinical, research, and industrial interest, opening the microfluidic droplet technologies for adaptation in these fields.

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This project has received funding from the European Union’s
Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme
under grant agreement No 666295.