Mighty small: Observing and modeling individual microbes becomes big science

J.U. Kreft, C.M. Plugge, V. Grimm, C. Prats, J.H.J. Leveau, T. Banitz, S. Baines, J. Clark, A. Ros, I. Klapper, C.J. Topping, A.J. Field, A. Schuler, E. Litchman, F.L. Hellweger

Research output: Contribution to journalEditorialAcademicpeer-review

52 Citations (Scopus)


Progress in microbiology has always been driven by technological advances, ever since Antonie van Leeuwenhoek discovered bacteria by making an improved compound microscope. However, until very recently we have not been able to identify microbes and record their mostly invisible activities, such as nutrient consumption or toxin production on the level of the single cell, not even in the laboratory. This is now changing with the rapid rise of exciting new technologies for single-cell microbiology (1, 2), which enable microbiologists to do what plant and animal ecologists have been doing for a long time: observe who does what, when, where, and next to whom. Single cells taken from the environment can be identified and even their genomes sequenced. Ex situ, their size, elemental, and biochemical composition, as well as other characteristics can be measured with high-throughput and cells sorted accordingly. Even better, individual microbes can be observed in situ with a range of novel microscopic and spectroscopic methods, enabling localization, identification, or functional characterization of cells in a natural sample, combined with detecting uptake of labeled compounds. Alternatively, they can be placed into fabricated microfluidic environments, where they can be positioned, exposed to stimuli, monitored, and their interactions controlled “in microfluido.” By introducing genetically engineered reporter cells into a fabricated landscape or a microcosm taken from nature, their reproductive success or activity can be followed, or their sensing of their local environment recorded.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)18027-18028
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number45
Publication statusPublished - 2013


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