The annual death rate due to antibiotic resistance was expected to reach 10 million by 2050. However, no new class of antibiotics has been introduced as a successful treatment option since 1987. Lack of new antibiotics is due to the fact that we do not have access to many microbial species in their natural environment, or we cannot grow them under standard laboratory conditions. Many useful microorganisms living as close as inside our gut or as remote as on the planet Mars, or in harsh natural environments have remained hidden from us. Therefore, there is a need to isolate and culture the unknown microorganisms in their natural environments as moving them from their natural environment to an artificial environment is likely to damage cells targeted for cultivation. This may explain why only a tiny proportion of cells in sample will form growth upon inoculation. Disclosing biological information of unknown microorganisms helps us to identify new antibiotic and pharmaceutical targets. Moreover, it introduces novel enzymes for other purposes such as a key enzyme for converting cellulose to ethanol and production of biofuel. Current methods of studying new microorganisms at least require a microbiologist to take the sample, isolate, and manipulate the microorganism for proper growth conditions in the lab, and there has been no onsite method up to now. 

This technology provides a promising solution to isolate, capture, and cultivate unidentified microorganisms in their natural environment with minimal human intervention. 

Technology Overview:

Researchers at Northeastern have invented a device, named Gulliver, for the on-site study of microorganisms. Gulliver is a tool which isolates and yields a pure culture of unidentified microorganism in their natural environment. Gulliver is a box with nanometer-size pores allowing entry of a single cell into the chamber. Once Gulliver is placed in the natural environment, a single cell enters the chamber and forms a homogenous culture. It also has smaller pores that allow the entry of foods from the natural environment and the exit of wastes from the chamber. The design allows a pump to be installed on the device to enhance the delivery of environmental nutrients through a diffusion method. Gulliver is superior to multi-pore devices since it forms a monoculture rather than a mixed culture. The use of diffusion method in the delivery of nutrients and waste helps to more reliably maintain environmental conditions for the growth of microorganisms. Nanosensors on Gulliver detect the presence of the microorganism and changes in physiological parameters, nutrients, and metabolites. A memory, a transmitter, and a receiver can be installed on the device to store, monitor, or provide real-time information by being connected to a cell-phone or a computer. 


  • Studying unknown microorganism in their natural environment with minimal human intervention will speed the isolation and cultivation of novel species > 10-fold 

  • Harvesting a monoculture of microorganism

  • Maintaining environmental growth condition of microorganisms 

  • Providing real-time information about the microorganism growth condition


  • On-site study of unknown microorganisms

  • Identification of new antibiotics 

  • Introduction of new pharmaceutical targets and biological enzymes 


  • License

  • Partnering

  • Research collaboration

Patent Information:
For Information, Contact:
Mark Saulich
Associate Director of Commercialization
Northeastern University
Slava Epstein