"Unleashing the Power of Single Cell Microbes"

Dr. Jonelle Basso

People's Choice Award

What do Beyoncé and my research team have in common? We’ve both promoted the power of singles! While Queen Bey’s hit song ‘All the single ladies’ created such excitement on the dance floor, new single cell genomics approaches have the world of science buzzing.

Many of us love plants and understand their importance not just as food but as carbon sponges and as feedstock crops for biofuels, for example. We then strive to identify how we can make plants the best versions of themselves…with a little help from microbial friends, of course.

We are fascinated by how microbes can help promote plant growth. Right now, any of you can go to an online database and look up a gene of your favorite microorganism that could be useful when making target improvements in how plants and microbes interact to counter disease or drought. But these databases can’t tell us what this gene of interest is actually doing - yet. So, to try to connect gene and gene function, here’s where we’re calling all the single cells…and where I come in! My research, in part, involves using single cell genomics to help identify gene functions that are essential for plant-microbe interactions through root systems.

If cells are grown together, their observable features may be missed, but if the cells are singled out, it could be their time to shine. So one approach is to capture single cells and grow them in isolation.

Also, just as Queen Bey sang, ‘if you liked it then you should have put a ring on it’, we could now do just that! Just imagine! Another technique allows us to pass exactly one, individual cell, through an opening that’s as wide as about 10 strands of hair on your head, while tagging a gene with a barcode! This technique can tell us under which conditions a gene of interest is turned on, or off, for example.

We anticipate that using single cell genomics in our system will capture and lead to the identification of very rare populations that may be crucial for the optimization of plant-microbe interactions.

So, just as this billboard hit has captured the fierceness of all the single ladies, we are excited to see what power all the single cell microbes have yet to unleash.