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Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Methodology article

Separation of the bacterial species, Escherichia coli, from mixed-species microbial communities for transcriptome analysis

Dongjuan Dai1, Diane Holder123, Lutgarde Raskin2 and Chuanwu Xi1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Environmental Health Sciences, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, USA, 48109, USA

2 Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, USA

3 Proficiency and Validation Services Section, USDA, APHIS, FADDL, Greenport, NY, USA

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BMC Microbiology 2011, 11:59  doi:10.1186/1471-2180-11-59

Published: 22 March 2011



The study of bacterial species interactions in a mixed-species community can be facilitated by transcriptome analysis of one species in the community using cDNA microarray technology. However, current applications of microarrays are mostly limited to single species studies. The purpose of this study is to develop a method to separate one species, Escherichia coli as an example, from mixed-species communities for transcriptome analysis.


E. coli cells were separated from a dual-species (E. coli and Stenotrophomonas maltophilia) community using immuno-magnetic separation (IMS). High recovery rates of E. coli were achieved. The purity of E. coli cells was as high as 95.0% separated from suspended mixtures consisting of 1.1 - 71.3% E. coli, and as high as 96.0% separated from biofilms with 8.1% E. coli cells. Biofilms were pre-dispersed into single-cell suspensions. The reagent RNAlater (Ambion, Austin, TX) was used during biofilm dispersion and IMS to preserve the transcriptome of E. coli. A microarray study and quantitative PCR confirmed that very few E. coli genes (only about eight out of 4,289 ORFs) exhibited a significant change in expression during dispersion and separation, indicating that transcriptional profiles of E. coli were well preserved.


A method based on immuno-magnetic separation (IMS) and application of RNAlater was developed to separate a bacterial species, E. coli as an example, from mixed-species communities while preserving its transcriptome. The method combined with cDNA microarray analysis should be very useful to study species interactions in mixed-species communities.