Bacterial communities in microfluidic chambers: assessing the impact of defined spatial geometry

In this project, we assess how putting bacteria in a defined spatial configuration affects inter-population interactions. Understanding and interpreting intercellular bacterial interactions has been a challenge, despite the impact of such interactions on human microbiota. Interactions may take place through diffusible chemical compounds (such as metabolites or toxins) that are produced by one cell type and can influence other cells. We hypothesize that spatial arrangement of cells would influence such interactions: if interaction partners are placed farther from each other, limited by diffusion, chemically-mediated interactions will be weakened or delayed. To test this hypothesis, we propose to use a microfluidics platform that allows us to control the positioning of cells in a small footprint, while allowing cells to interact through chemical compounds. Specifically, the student working on project will design and build microfluidic devices in a collaboration between the Momeni lab and the Burch lab, using their respective expertise in microbiology and maskless lithography. We will grow bacterial cells in microfluidic devices within chambers that are connected with channels. This setup allows chemicals (but not cells) to be exchanged between chambers. By monitoring population growth over time, we investigate how having chambers at different distances from each other affects inter-population interactions.