• fluorescence microscopy;
  • digital image processing;
  • identification of dividing cells;
  • dividing and newborn cells;
  • cell population heterogeneity;
  • inverse cell population balance modeling


Cell population balance (CPB) models can account for the phenotypic heterogeneity that characterizes isogenic cell populations. To utilize the predictive power of these models, however, we must determine the single-cell reaction and division rates as well as the partition probability density function of the cell population. These functions can be obtained through the Collins–Richmond inverse CPB modeling methodology, if we know the phenotypic distributions of (a) the overall cell population, (b) the dividing cell subpopulation, and (c) the newborn cell subpopulation. This study presents the development of a novel assay that combines fluorescence microscopy and image processing to determine these distributions. The method is generally applicable to rod-shaped cells dividing through the formation of a characteristic constriction. Morphological criteria were developed for the automatic identification of dividing cells and validated through direct comparison with manually obtained measurements. The newborn cell subpopulation was obtained from the corresponding dividing cell subpopulation by collecting information from the two compartments separated by the constriction. The method was applied to E. coli cells carrying the genetic toggle network with a green fluorescent marker. Our measurements for the overall cell population were in excellent agreement with the distributions obtained via flow cytometry. The new assay constitutes a powerful tool that can be used in conjunction with inverse CPB modeling to rigorously quantify single-cell behavior from data collected from highly heterogeneous cell populations. Biotechnol. Bioeng. 2009;102: 598–615. © 2008 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.