Density Fluctuations, Homeostasis, and Reproduction Effects in Bacteria
Single-cells grow by increasing their biomass and size. Here, we report that while mass and size accumulation rates of single Escherichia coli cells are exponential, their density and, thus, the levels of macromolecular crowding fluctuate during growth. As such, the average rates of mass and size accumulation of a single cell are generally not the same, but rather cells differentiate into increasing one rate with respect to the other. This differentiation yields a density homeostasis mechanism that we support mathematically. Further, we observe that density fluctuations can affect the reproduction rates of single cells, suggesting a link between the levels of macromolecular crowding with metabolism and overall population fitness. We detail our experimental approach and the “invisible” microfluidic arrays that enabled increased precision and throughput. Infections and natural communities start from a few cells, thus, emphasizing the significance of density-fluctuations when taking non-genetic variability into consideration.