Defining heterogeneity within bacterial populations via single cell approaches
Bacterial populations are heterogeneous, which in many cases can provide a selective advantage during changes in environmental conditions. In some instances, heterogeneity exists at the genetic level, in which significant allelic variation occurs within a population seeded by a single cell. In other cases, heterogeneity exists due to phenotypic differences within a clonal, genetically identical population. A variety of mechanisms can drive this latter strategy. Stochastic fluctuations can drive differential gene expression, but heterogeneity in gene expression can also be driven by environmental changes sensed by individual cells residing in distinct locales. Utilizing multiple single cell approaches, workers have started to uncover the extent of heterogeneity within bacterial populations. This review will first describe several examples of phenotypic and genetic heterogeneity, and then discuss many single cell approaches that have recently been applied to define heterogeneity within bacterial populations.