Dissecting biological "dark matter" with single-cell genetic analysis of rare and uncultivated TM7 microbes from the human mouth.
We have developed a microfluidic device that allows the isolation and genome amplification of individual microbial cells, thereby enabling organism-level genomic analysis of complex microbial ecosystems without the need for culture. This device was used to perform a directed survey of the human subgingival crevice and to isolate bacteria having rod-like morphology. Several isolated microbes had a 16S rRNA sequence that placed them in candidate phylum TM7, which has no cultivated or sequenced members. Genome amplification from individual TM7 cells allowed us to sequence and assemble >1,000 genes, providing insight into the physiology of members of this phylum. This approach enables single-cell genetic analysis of any uncultivated minority member of a microbial community.