High-Throughput Gel Microbeads as Incubators for Bacterial Competition Study

Research output: Contribution to journalResearch articleContributedpeer-review



Bacteria primarily live in structured environments, such as colonies and biofilms, attached to surfaces or growing within soft tissues. They are engaged in local competitive and cooperative interactions impacting our health and well-being, for example, by affecting population-level drug resistance. Our knowledge of bacterial competition and cooperation within soft matrices is incomplete, partly because we lack high-throughput tools to quantitatively study their interactions. Here, we introduce a method to generate a large amount of agarose microbeads that mimic the natural culture conditions experienced by bacteria to co-encapsulate two strains of fluorescence-labeled Escherichia coli. Focusing specifically on low bacterial inoculum (1–100 cells/capsule), we demonstrate a study on the formation of colonies of both strains within these 3D scaffolds and follow their growth kinetics and interaction using fluorescence microscopy in highly replicated experiments. We confirmed that the average final colony size is inversely proportional to the inoculum size in this semi-solid environment as a result of limited available resources. Furthermore, the colony shape and fluorescence intensity per colony are distinctly different in monoculture and co-culture. The experimental observations in mono- and co-culture are compared with predictions from a simple growth model. We suggest that our high throughput and small footprint microbead system is an excellent platform for future investigation of competitive and cooperative interactions in bacterial communities under diverse conditions, including antibiotics stress.


Original languageEnglish
Article number645
Number of pages14
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 12 Mar 2023

External IDs

PubMed 36985052
WOS 000958184600001



  • agarose microbeads, bacterial co-existence, co-culture, fluorescence-tagged E. coli, high-throughput, millifluidic, Agarose microbeads, High-throughput, Coli, fluorescence-tagged E, Millifluidic, Bacterial co-existence, Co-culture