PLoS One. 2017 Aug 2;12(8):e0182163. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0182163. eCollection 2017.
Interactions between microbes are central to the dynamics of microbial communities. Understanding these interactions is essential for the characterization of communities, yet challenging to accomplish in practice. There are limited available tools for characterizing diffusion-mediated, contact-independent microbial interactions. A practical and widely implemented technique in such characterization involves the simultaneous co-culture of distinct bacterial species and subsequent analysis of relative abundance in the total population. However, distinguishing between species can be logistically challenging. In this paper, we present a low-cost, vertical membrane, co-culture plate to quantify contact-independent interactions between distinct bacterial populations in co-culture via real-time optical density measurements. These measurements can be used to facilitate the analysis of the interaction between microbes that are physically separated by a semipermeable membrane yet able to exchange diffusible molecules. We show that diffusion across the membrane occurs at a sufficient rate to enable effective interaction between physically separate cultures. Two bacterial species commonly found in the cystic fibrotic lung, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Burkholderia cenocepacia, were co-cultured to demonstrate how this plate may be implemented to study microbial interactions. We have demonstrated that this novel co-culture device is able to reliably generate real-time measurements of optical density data that can be used to characterize interactions between microbial species.