Evaporation-induced stimulation of bacterial osmoregulation for electrical assessment of cell viability

Aida Ebrahimia, Muhammad Ashraful Alama

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Bacteria cells use osmoregulatory proteins as emergency valves to respond to changes in the osmotic pressure of their external environment. The existence of these emergency valves has been known since the 1960s, but they have never been used as the basis of a viability assay to tell dead bacteria cells apart from live ones. In this paper, we show that osmoregulation provides a much faster, label-free assessment of cell viability compared with traditional approaches that rely on cell multiplication (growth) to reach a detectable threshold. The cells are confined in an evaporating droplet that serves as a dynamic microenvironment. Evaporation-induced increase in ionic concentration is reflected in a proportional increase of the droplet's osmotic pressure, which in turn, stimulates the osmoregulatory response from the cells. By monitoring the time-varying electrical conductance of evaporating droplets, bacterial cells are identified within a few minutes compared with several hours in growth-based methods. To show the versatility of the proposed method, we show detection of WT and genetically modified nonhalotolerant cells (Salmonella typhimurium) and dead vs. live differentiation of nonhalotolerant (such as Escherichia coli DH5α) and halotolerant cells (such as Staphylococcus epidermidis). Unlike the growth-based techniques, the assay time of the proposed method is independent of cell concentration or the bacteria type. The proposed label-free approach paves the road toward realization of a new class of real time, array-formatted electrical sensors compatible with droplet microfluidics for laboratory on a chip applications.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7059-7064
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number26
StatePublished - Jun 28 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


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