Following cell-fate in E. coli after infection by phage lambda.
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The system comprising bacteriophage (phage) lambda and the bacterium E. coli has long served as a paradigm for cell-fate determination. Following the simultaneous infection of the cell by a number of phages, one of two pathways is chosen: lytic (virulent) or lysogenic (dormant). We recently developed a method for fluorescently labeling individual phages, and were able to examine the post-infection decision in real-time under the microscope, at the level of individual phages and cells. Here, we describe the full procedure for performing the infection experiments described in our earlier work. This includes the creation of fluorescent phages, infection of the cells, imaging under the microscope and data analysis. The fluorescent phage is a "hybrid", co-expressing wild- type and YFP-fusion versions of the capsid gpD protein. A crude phage lysate is first obtained by inducing a lysogen of the gpD-EYFP (Enhanced Yellow Fluorescent Protein) phage, harboring a plasmid expressing wild type gpD. A series of purification steps are then performed, followed by DAPI-labeling and imaging under the microscope. This is done in order to verify the uniformity, DNA packaging efficiency, fluorescence signal and structural stability of the phage stock. The initial adsorption of phages to bacteria is performed on ice, then followed by a short incubation at 35°C to trigger viral DNA injection. The phage/bacteria mixture is then moved to the surface of a thin nutrient agar slab, covered with a coverslip and imaged under an epifluorescence microscope. The post-infection process is followed for 4 hr, at 10 min interval. Multiple stage positions are tracked such that ~100 cell infections can be traced in a single experiment. At each position and time point, images are acquired in the phase-contrast and red and green fluorescent channels. The phase-contrast image is used later for automated cell recognition while the fluorescent channels are used to characterize the infection outcome: production of new fluorescent phages (green) followed by cell lysis, or expression of lysogeny factors (red) followed by resumed cell growth and division. The acquired time-lapse movies are processed using a combination of manual and automated methods. Data analysis results in the identification of infection parameters for each infection event (e.g. number and positions of infecting phages) as well as infection outcome (lysis/lysogeny). Additional parameters can be extracted if desired.
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