Monitoring Spatial Segregation in Surface Colonizing Microbial Populations.
Microbes provide an intriguing system to study social interaction among individuals within a population. The short generation times and relatively simple genetic modification procedures of microbes facilitate the development of the sociomicrobiology field. To assess the fitness of certain microbial species, selected strains or their genetically modified derivatives within one population, can be fluorescently labelled and tracked using microscopy adapted with appropriate fluorescence filters. Expanding colonies of diverse microbial species on agar media can be used to monitor the spatial distribution of cells producing distinctive fluorescent proteins. Here, we present a detailed protocol for the use of green- and red-fluorescent protein producing bacterial strains to follow spatial arrangement during surface colonization, including flagellum-driven community movement (swarming), exopolysaccharide- and hydrophobin-dependent growth mediated spreading (sliding), and complex colony biofilm formation. Non-domesticated isolates of the Gram-positive bacterium, Bacillus subtilis can be utilized to scrutinize certain surface spreading traits and their effect on two-dimensional distribution on the agar-solidified medium. By altering the number of cells used to initiate colony biofilms, the assortment levels can be varied on a continuous scale. Time-lapse fluorescent microscopy can be used to witness the interaction between different phenotypes and genotypes at a certain assortment level and to determine the relative success of either.