Leonie Johanna Jahn, Bethany Mason, Peter Brøgger, Tea Toteva, Dennis Kim Nielsen, and Genevieve Thon

David B. H. Barton, Danae Georghiou, Neelam Dave, Majed Alghamdi, Thomas A. Walsh, Edward J. Louis, and Steven S. Foster

Microbial arrays, with a large number of different strains on a single plate printed with robotic precision, underpin an increasing number of genetic and genomic approaches. These include Synthetic Genetic Array analysis, high-throughput Quantitative Trait Loci (QTL) analysis and 2-hybrid techniques. Measuring the growth of individual colonies within these arrays is an essential part of many of these techniques but is useful for any work with arrays. Measurement is typically done using intermittent imagery fed into complex image analysis software, which is not especially accurate and is challenging to use effectively. We have developed a simple and fast alternative technique that uses a pinning robot and a commonplace microplate reader to continuously measure the thickness of colonies growing on solid agar, complemented by a technique for normalizing the amount of cells initially printed to each spot of the array in the first place. We have developed software to automate the process of combining multiple sets of readings, subtracting agar absorbance, and visualizing colony thickness changes in a number of informative ways.

The “PHENOS” pipeline (PHENotyping On Solid media), optimized for Saccharomyces yeasts, produces highly reproducible growth curves and is particularly sensitive to low-level growth. We have empirically determined a formula to estimate colony cell count from an absorbance measurement, and shown this to be comparable with estimates from measurements in liquid. We have also validated the technique by reproducing the results of an earlier QTL study done with conventional liquid phenotyping, and found PHENOS to be considerably more sensitive.

“PHENOS” is a cost effective and reliable high-throughput technique for quantifying growth of yeast arrays, and is likely to be equally very useful for a range of other types of microbial arrays. A detailed guide to the pipeline and software is provided with the installation files at https://github.com/gact/phenos.