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Image of bacteria colonies for article on single cell colony picking.
Published On: July 26th, 2022

Colony picking involves removing a sample from a healthy microbe colony after culturing a microbe sample on a plate. Single-cell colony picking means isolating a single microbe cell from a cultured colony. The growing fields of genomics, proteomics, and transcriptomics rely on isolating and studying single cells. Learn more about the tools and methods behind this lab technique, its current applications and challenges, and how automation is changing the game.

Applications of Single Cell Colony Picking

Why would scientists need to study just a single cell instead of a sample of many cells from the same microbe colony? In general, single-cell colony picking is useful for applications where the colony’s behavior is not uniform. For example, tumors include complex interactions between malignant, cancerous cells, and benign near the malignant cells. Studying these two different cell types can help biologists better understand how cancer spreads. Think about it like this: analyzing a colony of cells is like studying a batch of chocolate chip cookies. Analyzing single cells is like studying the ingredients that work together to make the cookie: the flour, the sugar, and the chocolate chips.

Another application of single cell colony picking is in studying stem cell development. Stem cells can develop into other types of specialized cells. Stem cells are also self-renewing, which means they have great potential for medical treatments like accelerated wound healing. Understanding how stem cells differentiate into specialized cells could help scientists make important advancements in treating disease.
Finally, single-cell colony picking is useful in synthetic biology. Synthetic biology is the design of new biological parts and systems and often involves genetic engineering to introduce small changes into existing bacteria and yeasts. Studying single cells helps microbiologists determine the results of synthetic biology procedures.

Single Cell Colony Picking Tools

There are many micromanipulation techniques used for isolating single cells from living samples. Often, the technique depends on the sample type. For tissue samples, laser capture microdissection or LCM is used to separate cells from tissue.

Fluorescence-activated cell sorting or FACS is a flow cytometry used to isolate cells from liquid samples. However, FACS requires a very high cell volume. Over 10,000 cells are necessary just to isolate one cell. Manual cell picking is the standard technique for isolating cells from plated colonies.
Manual cell picking uses two tools: a microscope and micropipettes. First, microbiologists look through the microscope to identify a single cell from the colony that is targeted for picking. Then, cells are gently lifted from the colony one at a time with the micropipettes. While this technique is effective, it can be very time-consuming, requiring highly trained lab technicians.

Automated colony picking tools can speed up this process, making it easier to select cells for further research. Increasing the throughput of lab techniques like single-cell colony picking means scientists and lab techs can focus on research questions and outcomes. An automated colony picker is a key part of a complete synthetic biology workstation.

For more information about single-cell colony picking tools and challenges, contact Hudson Robotics today.