29th June 2011, 13:40 pm, (FENS L055)
Cooperation between the fields of life sciences and engineering has always been an important source of new discoveries and inventions. Early milestones include Hooke's discovery of the cell as the fundamental building block of life - a discovery that was made possible by his invention of the compound microscope.
In recent years, there has been a gradual shift from qualitative to quantitative approaches in microbiology. Most of the traditional techniques in microbiology are semi-quantitative at best and are based on population-averaged measurements of cellular parameters. These techniques do not allow the investigator to follow the time evolution of quantitative traits - such as growth rates, morphometry, or gene expression - at single-cell resolution. These limitations can be overcome by designing new microfabricated tools to measure relevant cellular parameters at single-cell resolution, on large numbers of individual cells, over time, and in response to environmental perturbations. In some cases, the dynamics of fluid flow at microscopic scales can be exploited to do work that cannot be done at macroscopic scales. Pioneering studies on eukaryotic cells using micro/nano-electromechanical systems (MEMS/NEMS) has encouraged the application of similar technologies to microbes. My specific research goal is to develop following tools to study drug tolerant persister cells, which is a major cause of recalcitrant infections and limiting factor for designing new drugs:
v A high-throughput microfluidic device to carry out genetic screens in M. smegmatis. This approach will be used to identify bacterial genes that are essential for persistence.
v A dielectrophoresis (DEP) based method to separate sub-populations of bacteria based on cell-to-cell differences in cell wall conductivity. This method will be used to separate and purify the distinct subpopulations generated by antibiotic exposure.