Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

Beta-galactosidase activity in single differentiating bacterial cells.

PMID 8396263


Myxococcus xanthus strains containing transcriptional fusions to lacZ were analyzed and fractionated by differences in their levels of beta-galactosidase expression. The fluorogenic substrate for beta-galactosidase, fluorescein di-beta-galactopyranoside, was introduced into M. xanthus cells during a rapid decrease in osmolarity of the medium followed by a return to isoosmolarity. Fluorescein, the product of hydrolysis, was retained within the cells and their viability was preserved. Fluorescence increased linearly with time and was proportional to beta-galactosidase activity. beta-Galactosidase expression in most fusion strains, though beginning at different phases of growth or development, was distributed unimodally amongst cells. However, fusion strain Tn5 lac omega 4473 was shown to be heterogeneous at 9 hr of development. It was possible to separate physically cells that expressed beta-galactosidase at a high level from other, still viable, cells with no expression. The approach described here could be adapted to study differentiation in plants and animals as well, where transcriptional fusions and fluorogenic substrates for enzyme probes of gene expression also can be used.