Live cell time-lapse microscopy, a widely-used technique to study gene expression and protein dynamics in single cells, relies on segmentation and tracking of individual cells for data generation. The potential of the data that can be extracted from this technique is limited by the inability to accurately segment a large number of cells from such microscopy images and track them over long periods of time. Existing segmentation and tracking algorithms either require additional dyes or markers specific to segmentation or they are highly specific to one imaging condition and cell morphology and/or necessitate manual correction. Here we introduce a fully automated, fast and robust segmentation and tracking algorithm for budding yeast that overcomes these limitations. Full automatization is achieved through a novel automated seeding method, which first generates coarse seeds, then automatically fine-tunes cell boundaries using these seeds and automatically corrects segmentation mistakes. Our algorithm can accurately segment and track individual yeast cells without any specific dye or biomarker. Moreover, we show how existing channels devoted to a biological process of interest can be used to improve the segmentation. The algorithm is versatile in that it accurately segments not only cycling cells with smooth elliptical shapes, but also cells with arbitrary morphologies (e.g. sporulating and pheromone treated cells). In addition, the algorithm is independent of the specific imaging method (bright-field/phase) and objective used (40X/63X/100X). We validate our algorithm’s performance on 9 cases each entailing a different imaging condition, objective magnification and/or cell morphology. Taken together, our algorithm presents a powerful segmentation and tracking tool that can be adapted to numerous budding yeast single-cell studies.
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