Strongly enhanced bacterial bioluminescence with the ilux operon for single-cell imaging
Authors: Gregor C, Gwosch KC, Sahl SJ, Hell SW
CellNetworks People: Hell Stefan
Journal: Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2018 Jan 30;115(5):962-967. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1715946115

Bioluminescence imaging of single cells is often complicated by the requirement of exogenous luciferins that can be poorly cell-permeable or produce high background signal. Bacterial bioluminescence is unique in that it uses reduced flavin mononucleotide as a luciferin, which is abundant in all cells, making this system purely genetically encodable by the lux operon. Unfortunately, the use of bacterial bioluminescence has been limited by its low brightness compared with other luciferases. Here, we report the generation of an improved lux operon named ilux with an approximately sevenfold increased brightness when expressed in Escherichia coli; ilux can be used to image single E. coli cells with enhanced spatiotemporal resolution over several days. In addition, since only metabolically active cells produce bioluminescent signal, we show that ilux can be used to observe the effect of different antibiotics on cell viability on the single-cell level.