Choosing your neighbors: Scientists see how microbes relate in space

Feb 14, 2011
This is a spectral fluorescence image of 15 different species of human oral microbes grown in the laboratory and labeled with taxon specific probes in a CLASI-FISH experiment. Credit: Alex Valm

Like people in cities, microbes often live in complex communities that contain many different microbial types. Also like us, microbes tend to gravitate to and "hang out" with certain other types in their community, more than with the rest. And sometimes, when opportunities arise, they move to more favorable locations.

But until recently, scientists have not been able to look at a microbial community and distinguish the spatial relationship of more than 2 or 3 kinds of at once.

Now, a developed at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL), allows scientists to see the spatial arrangement of up to 28 differently labeled microbes in a single field of view.

"We get information on the presence of many different microbes at once and get it quickly, cheaply, and perhaps more accurately than other methods," says Gary Borisy, president and director of the MBL and co-author of a paper describing the technique published today in .

"Just as you may move to a certain neighborhood because the schools are good for your kids, the neighborhood is important for microbes," Borisy says. "When we find out where (in a community) they like to hang out, that has implications for how they function."

The new technique, called CLASI-FISH (combinatorial labeling and spectral imaging fluorescent in situ hybridization), is faster than traditional ways of identifying the microbes in a sample (by laboratory culture or by DNA sequencing). Plus, it reveals the spatial structure of the community, which these methods do not.

"We don't just find out who is there. We find out where they are in space," Borisy says.

Borisy and his colleagues, including Floyd Dewhirst of the Harvard School of Dental Medicine, used the technique to analyze , a complex that is known to contain at least 600 species of microbes. They were able to visually discriminate 15 different microbial types, and to determine which 2 types (Prevotella and Actinomyces) showed the most interspecies associations.

"That might imply some functional interaction between them," Borisy says. "One may be facilitating the other to colonize the site, and the exchange will reap some benefit for them both."

The lead author on the paper is Alex M. Valm, a student in the Brown-MBL Graduate Program in Biological and Environmental Sciences. Another team member, MBL scientist Jessica Mark Welch, is leading the effort to apply CLASI-FISH to the organization of in another setting—the guts of mice harboring defined populations of human microbes.

"It's very possible that this technology will enable a new kind of clinical diagnostic procedure, so that it will be possible to very quickly and accurately diagnose a specimen for many kinds of microbes at once," Borisy says. "As an alternative to culturing, it could be faster, cheaper, and better."

Explore further: Hot-spring bacteria reveal ability to use far-red light for photosynthesis

More information: Valm, A.M., Mark Welch, J.L., Rieken, C.W., Hasegawa, Y., Sogin, M.L., Oldenbourg, R., Dewhirst, F.E., and Borisy, G.G. (2011) Systems-level analysis of microbial community organization through combinatorial labeling and spectral imaging. PNAS Early Edition (Feb. 14), doi/10.1073/pnas.1101134108

Provided by Marine Biological Laboratory

not rated yet

Related Stories

New Window Opens on the Secret Life of Microbes

Mar 13, 2008

Nowhere is the principle of "strength in numbers" more apparent than in the collective power of microbes: despite their simplicity, these one-cell organisms -- which number about 5 million trillion trillion ...

Bigelow laboratory scientists doach to study marine microbes

May 21, 2007

In a paper published this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Dr. Ramunas Stepanauskas and Dr. Michael Sieracki have proven a new method of identifying genetic codes of ocean microbes from a sing ...

House-sharing with microbes

Sep 09, 2010

Household dust contains up to 1000 different species of microbes, with tens of millions of individual bacterial cells in each gram. And these are just the ones that can be grown in the lab!

You are not what you eat

Nov 16, 2010

The types of gut bacteria that populate the guts of primates depend on the species of the host as well as where the host lives and what they eat. A study led by Howard Ochman at Yale University examines the gut microbial ...

Recommended for you

Researchers discover new strategy germs use to invade cells

Aug 20, 2014

The hospital germ Pseudomonas aeruginosa wraps itself into the membrane of human cells: A team led by Dr. Thorsten Eierhoff and Junior Professor Dr. Winfried Römer from the Institute of Biology II, members of the Cluster ...

Progress in the fight against harmful fungi

Aug 20, 2014

A group of researchers at the Max F. Perutz Laboratories has created one of the three world's largest gene libraries for the Candida glabrata yeast, which is harmful to humans. Molecular analysis of the Candida ...

How steroid hormones enable plants to grow

Aug 19, 2014

Plants can adapt extremely quickly to changes in their environment. Hormones, chemical messengers that are activated in direct response to light and temperature stimuli help them achieve this. Plant steroid ...

Surviving the attack of killer microbes

Aug 19, 2014

The ability to find food and avoid predation dictates whether most organisms live to spread their genes to the next generation or die trying. But for some species of microbe, a unique virus changes the rules ...

User comments : 0