RT-qPCR based quantitative analysis of gene expression in single bacterial cells

Weimin Gao, Weiwen Zhang, Deirdre Meldrum

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Scopus citations


Recent evidence suggests that cell-to-cell difference at the gene expression level is an order of magnitude greater than previously thought even for isogenic bacterial populations. Such gene expression heterogeneity determines the fate of individual bacterial cells in populations and could also affect the ultimate fate of populations themselves. To quantify the heterogeneity and its biological significance, quantitative methods to measure gene expression in single bacterial cells are needed. In this work, we developed two SYBR Green-based RT-qPCR methods to determine gene expression directly in single bacterial cells. The first method involves a single-tube operation that can analyze one gene from each bacterial cell. The second method is featured by a two-stage protocol that consists of RNA isolation from a single bacterial cell and cDNA synthesis in the first stage, and qPCR in the second stage, which allows determination of expression level of multiple genes simultaneously for single bacterial cells of both gram-positive and negative. We applied the methods to stress-treated (i.e. low pH and high temperature) Escherichia coli populations. The reproducible results demonstrated that the method is sensitive enough not only for measuring cellular responses at the single-cell level, but also for revealing gene expression heterogeneity among the bacterial cells. Furthermore, our results showed that the two-stage method can reproducibly measure multiple highly expressed genes from a single E. coli cell, which exhibits important foundation for future development of a high throughput and lab-on-chips whole-genome RT-qPCR methodology for single bacterial cells.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)221-227
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Microbiological Methods
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2011


  • B. subtilis
  • E. coli
  • Gene expression
  • RT-qPCR
  • Single bacterial cells

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Microbiology (medical)


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