Unicellular phenotyping

Single-cell phenotyping under relevant physico-chemical conditions

Human civilization has been built upon successive agricultural revolutions, made possible by the selection of plants for phenotypic traits that are favorable for cultivation. A similar revolution may well emerge from the selection of unicellular phototrophic organisms, such as microalgae and cyanobacteria, and their subsequent industrial use for biosynthesis of desired compounds and bioenergy production. Assisted evolution of phototrophs commonly relies on bulk cultures and is performed under standardized laboratory condition, which often hampers their use for upscaling of production processes under regular environmental conditions (e.g. in order to endure temperature fluctuations in bioreactors). In this project, microfluidic platforms are used for the photopysiological characterization and selection of single-cell phenotypes under user-controlled physico-chemical conditions. Preliminary single-cell data demonstrates that we can identify cells with elevated resilience towards rising temperatures and that selection and propagation of chosen phenotypes yields daughter populations with desired phenotypic characteristics. This highlights the potential of this technology to understand environmental change on single-cell organisms and its use for the assisted evolution of important production organisms.

Relevant publications:

L. Behrendt, M. M. Salek, E. L. Trampe, V. I. Fernandez, K. S. Lee, M. Kühl, R. Stocker, PhenoChip: A single-cell phenomic platform for high-throughput photophysiological analyses of microalgae. Sci. Adv.6, eabb2754 (2020

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