- Elon Musk
Our current work employs an in situ culturing platform, known as the isolation chip, or the ichip. The ichip is an agarose gel based microbial trapping technique; whereby, microbial samples are taken directly from a field sample, diluted and inoculated into the agarose matrix. As shown in figure 1, the collected microbes, once placed back into their site of origin, are provided with the natural conditions and nutrients which they are accustomed to by means of a set of semi-permeable membranes. This platform allows for culturing of microbes which would otherwise take significant study and dedication to optimize growth for in the lab. After an incubation period, wells that were inoculated with a single cell produce a monocolony, which can be extracted and studied in depth, in ways that would be impossible for a field sample containing various amounts of microbes of unknown taxa.
T. Cantrell planting iChips in a fumarole region in Iceland.
Figure 1: The collected microbes are placed into conditions with semi-permeable membranes.
A major interest of the Stockton group is exploring the limits of habitability both on Earth and beyond. This has led to exploration of Icelandic basaltic tephra deserts and hydrothermal fields as potential Martian analogue sites with a field lab to measure ATP and conduct qPCR in the field.1 It has also led to the development of iChip technology for in situ culturing in the extreme environments of hydro-geothermal systems; this novel application of an emerging microfluidic technology is the current focus of research and our early career collaboration.
We were the first to test these devices in hydrothermal field in summer 2015 as part of our field work in Iceland. Preliminary results show that we did not achieve significant growth in most of the samples collected, presumably due to an engineering failure in device fabrication that has been resolved and thoroughly tested in hydrothermal mimic samples in the lab. We plan to continue this work through means of a collaboration with Dr. Katsumi Matsuura and his lab at the Tokyo Metropolitan University.