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Labeling of prokaryotic mRNA in live cells using fluorescent in situ hybridization of transcript-annealing molecular beacons (FISH-TAMB)

By Rachel L. Harris, Maggie C. Y. Lau, Esta van Heerden, Errol Cason, Jan-G Vermeulen, Anjali Taneja, Thomas L. Kieft, Christina DeCoste, Gary Laevsky, Tullis C. Onstott

Posted 19 Aug 2017
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/178368

High-throughput sequencing and cellular imaging have expanded our knowledge of microbial diversity and expression of cellular activity. However, it remains challenging to characterize low-abundance, slow-growing microorganisms that play key roles in biogeochemical cycling. With the goal of isolating transcriptionally active cells of these microorganisms from environmental samples, we developed fluorescent in situ hybridization of transcript-annealing molecular beacons (FISH-TAMB) to label living prokaryotic cells. FISH-TAMB utilizes polyarginine cell-penetrating peptides to deliver molecular beacons across cell walls and membranes. Target cells are fluorescently labeled via hybridization between molecular beacons and messenger RNA of targeted functional genes. FISH-TAMB's target specificity and deliverance into both bacterial and archaeal cells were demonstrated by labeling intracellular methyl-coenzyme M reductase A (mcrA) transcripts expressed by Escherichia coli mcrA+, Methanosarcina barkeri, and a methanogenic enrichment of deep continental fracture fluid. Growth curve analysis supported sustained cellular viability following FISH-TAMB treatment. Flow cytometry and confocal microscopy detected labeled single cells and single cells in aggregates with unlabeled cells. As FISH-TAMB is amenable to target any functional gene of interest, when coupled with cell sorting, imaging, and sequencing techniques, FISH-TAMB will enable characterization of key uncharacterized rare biosphere microorganisms and of the syntrophically activated metabolic pathways between physically associated microorganisms.

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