The method uses time-lapse microscopy to monitor individual yeast cells undergoing a small number of divisions to form microcolonies and can measure the lag times and growth rates of as many as 80,000 individual microcolonies in a single 24-hour experiment, opening up a powerful new high-throughput tool to study the complex interplay between cell growth, division and metabolism under environmental conditions that are likely to be ecologically relevant but had previously been difficult to study in the laboratory.
The researchers studied growth rates and lag times in both lab strains and wild yeast by varying the amount of its prime carbon food source, glucose.
They confirmed the prediction made over 60 years ago by Noble-prize-winning biologist Jacques Monod regarding changes in microbial growth rates with limited nutrients (the Monod equation).
They also found significant differences among strains in both the average lag response (the amount of time it takes to transition from cell quiescence to restarting cell growth) and average growth rates in response to different environmental conditions.
Lead author, Naomi Ziv said that the different strain variances that are seen suggest that the extent of nongenetic heterogeneity is itself genetically determined.