Bacterial traffic on chip

Bacteria are social creatures that engage in a variety of interactions with their environment and with each other. Understanding bacterial population dynamics in ecosystems that are spatially structured at the micron scale can offer new strategies to improving mobility in real-world settings. Following up from previous work in the group on cooperation, colonization and competition of bacterial communities  in well-defined landscapes (see our papers Hol and Dekker, Science 346, 1251821 (2014); Wu et al., Chem. Soc. Rev. (2016).), we will study how bacteria sense each other and navigate their confined surroundings (see our paper Männik et al., PNAS 106, 14861 (2009)).

We are designing on-chip microstructures that mimic the complexity of a city environment, including various road geometries, collisions, disruptions. At the single-cell level, we will investigate mixed populations of fast vs slow bacteria, and study their mutual hydrodynamic interactions as well as interactions with their surroundings. At the community level, we will study longer-range communication effects (i.e. quorum sensing) and social behavior within the population. 

Using a combination of fluorescence microscopy and microfluidics we aim to characterize the physical, chemical, and ecological processes shape the dynamic behaviour of individual bacteria and bacterial communities.


Figure 1. Setup for studying bacterial movement in small constrictions (adapted from our paper Männik et al., PNAS 106, 14861 (2009)).

People working on this project


Sabina Caneva

Fabai Wu

    Felix Hol