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Open Access Technical Note

A modified agar pad method for mycobacterial live-cell imaging

Graham Joyce, Brian D Robertson and Kerstin J Williams*

Author Affiliations

Centre for Molecular Microbiology and Infection, Imperial College, London, SW7 2AZ, UK

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BMC Research Notes 2011, 4:73  doi:10.1186/1756-0500-4-73

Published: 21 March 2011



Two general approaches to prokaryotic live-cell imaging have been employed to date, growing bacteria on thin agar pads or growing bacteria in micro-channels. The methods using agar pads 'sandwich' the cells between the agar pad on the bottom and a glass cover slip on top, before sealing the cover slip. The advantages of this technique are that it is simple and relatively inexpensive to set up. However, once the cover slip is sealed, the environmental conditions cannot be manipulated. Furthermore, desiccation of the agar pad, and the growth of cells in a sealed environment where the oxygen concentration will be in gradual decline, may not permit longer term studies such as those required for the slower growing mycobacteria.


We report here a modified agar pad method where the cells are sandwiched between a cover slip on the bottom and an agar pad on top of the cover slip (rather than the reverse) and the cells viewed from below using an inverted microscope. This critical modification overcomes some of the current limitations with agar pad methods and was used to produce time-lapse images and movies of cell growth for Mycobacterium smegmatis and Mycobacterium bovis BCG.


This method offers improvement on the current agar pad methods in that long term live cell imaging studies can be performed and modification of the media during the experiment is permitted.