Development of single-cell-level microfluidic technology for long-term growth visualization of living cultures of Mycobacterium smegmatis.
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Analysis of growth and death kinetics at single-cell resolution is a key step in understanding the complexity of the nonreplicating growth phenotype of the bacterial pathogen Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Here, we developed a single-cell-resolution microfluidic mycobacterial culture device that allows time-lapse microscopy-based long-term phenotypic visualization of the live replication dynamics of mycobacteria. This technology was successfully applied to monitor the real-time growth dynamics of the fast-growing model strain Mycobacterium smegmatis (M. smegmatis) while subjected to drug treatment regimens during continuous culture for 48h inside the microfluidic device. A clear morphological change leading to significant swelling at the poles of the bacterial membrane was observed during drug treatment. In addition, a small subpopulation of cells surviving treatment by frontline antibiotics was observed to recover and achieve robust replicative growth once regular culture media was provided, suggesting the possibility of identifying and isolating nonreplicative mycobacteria. This device is a simple, easy-to-use, and low-cost solution for studying the single-cell phenotype and growth dynamics of mycobacteria, especially during drug treatment.