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Keywords:

  • tip growth;
  • pollen tube;
  • microfluidics;
  • chemotropism;
  • single cell analysis;
  • technical advance

Summary

Large-scale phenotyping of tip-growing cells such as pollen tubes has hitherto been limited to very crude parameters such as germination percentage and velocity of growth. To enable efficient and high-throughput execution of more sophisticated assays, an experimental platform, the TipChip, was developed based on microfluidic and microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) technology. The device allows positioning of pollen grains or fungal spores at the entrances of serially arranged microchannels equipped with microscopic experimental set-ups. The tip-growing cells (pollen tubes, filamentous yeast or fungal hyphae) may be exposed to chemical gradients, microstructural features, integrated biosensors or directional triggers within the modular microchannels. The device is compatible with Nomarski optics and fluorescence microscopy. Using this platform, we were able to answer several outstanding questions on pollen tube growth. We established that, unlike root hairs and fungal hyphae, pollen tubes do not have a directional memory. Furthermore, pollen tubes were found to be able to elongate in air, raising the question of how and where water is taken up by the cell. The platform opens new avenues for more efficient experimentation and large-scale phenotyping of tip-growing cells under precisely controlled, reproducible conditions.