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MBio. 2013 Jun 25;4(4). pii: e00331-13. doi: 10.1128/mBio.00331-13.

High-throughput nano-biofilm microarray for antifungal drug discovery.

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Department of Biomedical Engineering, The University of Texas at San Antonio, San Antonio, Texas, USA.


Micro- and nanoscale technologies have radically transformed biological research from genomics to tissue engineering, with the relative exception of microbial cell culture, which is still largely performed in microtiter plates and petri dishes. Here, we present nanoscale culture of the opportunistic fungal pathogen Candida albicans on a microarray platform. The microarray consists of 1,200 individual cultures of 30 nl of C. albicans biofilms ("nano-biofilms") encapsulated in an inert alginate matrix. We demonstrate that these nano-biofilms are similar to conventional macroscopic biofilms in their morphological, architectural, growth, and phenotypic characteristics. We also demonstrate that the nano-biofilm microarray is a robust and efficient tool for accelerating the drug discovery process: (i) combinatorial screening against a collection of 28 antifungal compounds in the presence of immunosuppressant FK506 (tacrolimus) identified six drugs that showed synergistic antifungal activity, and (ii) screening against the NCI challenge set small-molecule library identified three heretofore-unknown hits. This cell-based microarray platform allows for miniaturization of microbial cell culture and is fully compatible with other high-throughput screening technologies.


Microorganisms are typically still grown in petri dishes, test tubes, and Erlenmeyer flasks in spite of the latest advances in miniaturization that have benefitted other allied research fields, including genomics and proteomics. Culturing microorganisms in small scale can be particularly valuable in cutting down time, cost, and reagent usage. This paper describes the development, characterization, and application of nanoscale culture of an opportunistic fungal pathogen, Candida albicans. Despite a more than 2,000-fold reduction in volume, the growth characteristics and drug response profiles obtained from the nanoscale cultures were comparable to the industry standards. The platform also enabled rapid identification of new drug candidates that were effective against C. albicans biofilms, which are a major cause of mortality in hospital-acquired infections.

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