Colistin is a last-resort antibiotic used to treat infections such as pneumonia and bacteremia. The gene MCR-1 makes Escherichia coli resistant to the drug, but it also lowers the bacteria’s fitness. Lois Ogunlana, a grad student at the University of Oxford, is trying to find out why. As part of her research in the labs of Craig MacLean and Stephan Uphoff, she watches the “mother machine,” a device that houses growing bacteria.
The bacteria are contained in growth channels that are microfluidic, meaning that the fluid growth media is precisely controlled at the microscale as it flows through the device. Mother cells divide at the bottom of each channel, and their daughter cells migrate upward to the opening, where they get flushed out by a stream of media. Ogunlana adds a stressor, such as antibiotics, to see what happens as the bacteria grow in real time. “We can measure many parameters like changes in cell size, cell length, growth rates, cell division rates, and generation times,” she tells The Scientist in an email.
Emily Makowski is an intern at The Scientist. Email her at email@example.com.