Single-cell methods are the state of the art in biological research. Zheng et al. developed a high-throughput technique called Microbe-seq designed to analyze single bacterial cells from a microbiota. Microbe-seq uses microfluidics to separate individual bacterial cells within droplets and then extract, amplify, and barcode their DNA, which is then subject to pooled Illumina sequencing. The technique was tested by sequencing multiple human fecal samples to generate barcoded reads for thousands of single amplified genomes (SAGs) per sample. Pooling the SAGs corresponding to the same bacterial species allowed consensus assemblies of these genomes to provide insights into strain-level diversity and revealed a phage association and the limits on horizontal gene-transfer events between strains.
Genetically encoded fluorescent biosensors are powerful tools used to track chemical processes in intact biological systems. However, the development and optimization of biosensors remains a challenging and labor-intensive process, primarily due to technical limitations of methods for screening candidate biosensors. Here we describe a screening modality that combines droplet microfluidics and automated fluorescence imaging to provide an order of magnitude increase in screening throughput. Moreover, unlike current techniques that are limited to screening for a single biosensor feature at a time (e.g. brightness), our method enables evaluation of multiple features (e.g. contrast, affinity, specificity) in parallel. Because biosensor features can covary, this capability is essential for rapid optimization. We use this system to generate a high-performance biosensor for lactate that can be used to quantify intracellular lactate concentrations. This biosensor, named LiLac, constitutes a significant advance in metabolite sensing and demonstrates the power of our screening approach.
Current techniques for the generation of cell-laden microgels are limited by numerous challenges, including poorly uncontrolled batch-to-batch variations, processes that are both labor- and time-consuming, the high expense of devices and reagents, and low production rates; this hampers the translation of laboratory findings to clinical applications. To address these challenges, we develop a droplet-based microfluidic strategy based on metastable droplet-templating and microchannel integration for the substantial large-scale production of single cell-laden alginate microgels. Specifically, we present a continuous processing method for microgel generation by introducing amphiphilic perfluoronated alcohols to obtain metastable emulsion droplets as sacrificial templates. In addition, to adapt to the metastable emulsion system, integrated microfluidic chips containing 80 drop-maker units are designed and optimized based on the computational fluid dynamics simulation. This strategy allows single cell encapsulation in microgels at a maximum production rate of 10 ml h−1 of cell suspension while retaining cell viability and functionality. These results represent a significant advance toward using cell-laden microgels for clinical-relevant applications, including cell therapy, tissue regeneration and 3D bioprinting.
We investigate the formation and properties of crude oil/water interfacial films. The time evolution of interfacial tension suggests the presence of short and long timescale processes reflecting the competition between different populations of surface-active molecules. We measure both the time-dependent shear and extensional interfacial rheology moduli. Late-time interface rheology is dominated by elasticity, which results in visible wrinkles on the crude oil drop surface upon interface disturbance. We also find that the chemical composition of the interfacial films is affected by the composition of the aqueous phase that it has contacted. For example, sulfate ions promote films enriched with carboxylic groups and condensed aromatics. Finally, we perform solution exchange experiments and monitor the late-time film composition upon the exchange. We detect the film composition change upon replacing chloride solutions with sulfate-enriched ones. To the best of our knowledge, we are the first to report the composition alteration of aged crude oil films. This finding might foreshadow an essential crude oil recovery mechanism.
Despite significant advances in particle imaging technologies over the past two decades, few advances have been made in particle tracking, i.e., linking individual particle positions across time series data. The state-of-the-art tracking algorithm is highly effective for systems in which the particles behave mostly independently. However, these algorithms become inaccurate when particle motion is highly correlated, such as in dense or strongly interacting systems. Accurate particle tracking is essential in the study of the physics of dense colloids, such as the study of dislocation formation, nucleation, and shear transformations. Here, we present a method for particle tracking that incorporates information about the correlated motion of the particles. We demonstrate significant improvement over the state-of-the-art tracking algorithm in simulated data on highly correlated systems.
In this work, we present dielectrophoresis (DEP) and in situ electrorotation (ROT) characterization of reversibly stimuli-responsive “dynamic” microcapsules that change the physicochemical properties of their shells under varying pH conditions and can encapsulate and release (macro)molecular cargo on demand. Specifically, these capsules are engineered to open (close) their shell under high (low) pH conditions and thus to release (retain) their encapsulated load or to capture and trap (macro)molecular samples from their environment. We show that the steady-state DEP and ROT spectra of these capsules can be modeled using a single-shell model and that the conductivity of their shells is influenced most by the pH. Furthermore, we measured the transient response of the angular velocity of the capsules under rotating electric field conditions, which allows us to directly determine the characteristic time scales of the underlying physical processes. In addition, we demonstrate the magnetic manipulation of microcapsules with embedded magnetic nanoparticles for lab-on-chip tasks such as encapsulation and release at designated locations and the in situ determination of their physicochemical state using on-chip ROT. The insight gained will enable the advanced design and operation of these dynamic drug delivery and smart lab-on-chip transport systems.
Hydrogels are widely used as substrates to investigate interactions between cells and their microenvironment as they mimic many attributes of the extracellular matrix. The stiffness of hydrogels is an important property that is known to regulate cell behavior. Beside stiffness, cells also respond to structural cues such as mesh size. However, since the mesh size of hydrogel is intrinsically coupled to its stiffness, its role in regulating cell behavior has never been independently investigated. Here, we report a hydrogel system whose mesh size and stiffness can be independently controlled. Cell behavior, including spreading, migration, and formation of focal adhesions is significantly altered on hydrogels with different mesh sizes but with the same stiffness. At the transcriptional level, hydrogel mesh size affects cellular mechanotransduction by regulating nuclear translocation of yes-associated protein. These findings demonstrate that the mesh size of a hydrogel plays an important role in cell-substrate interactions.
The cytoskeleton of eukaryotic cells is primarily composed of networks of filamentous proteins, F-actin, microtubules, and intermediate filaments. Interactions among the cytoskeletal components are important in determining cell structure and in regulating cell functions. For example, F-actin and microtubules work together to control cell shape and polarity, while the subcellular organization and transport of vimentin intermediate filament (VIF) networks depend on their interactions with microtubules. However, it is generally thought that F-actin and VIFs form two coexisting but separate networks that are independent due to observed differences in their spatial distribution and functions. In this paper, we present a closer investigation of both the structural and functional interplay between the F-actin and VIF cytoskeletal networks. We characterize the structure of VIFs and F-actin networks within the cell cortex using structured illumination microscopy and cryo-electron tomography. We find that VIFs and F-actin form an interpenetrating network (IPN) with interactions at multiple length scales, and VIFs are integral components of F-actin stress fibers. From measurements of recovery of cell contractility after transient stretching, we find that the IPN structure results in enhanced contractile forces and contributes to cell resilience. Studies of reconstituted networks and dynamic measurements in cells suggest direct and specific associations between VIFs and F-actin. From these results, we conclude that VIFs and F-actin work synergistically, both in their structure and in their function. These results profoundly alter our understanding of the contributions of the components of the cytoskeleton, particularly the interactions between intermediate filaments and F-actin.
This review focuses on experimental work on nonlinear phenomena in microfluidics, which for the most part are phenomena for which the velocity of a fluid flowing through a microfluidic channel does not scale proportionately with the pressure drop. Examples include oscillations, flow-switching behaviors, and bifurcations. These phenomena are qualitatively distinct from laminar, diffusion-limited flows that are often associated with microfluidics. We explore the nonlinear behaviors of bubbles or droplets when they travel alone or in trains through a microfluidic network or when they assemble into either one- or two-dimensional crystals. We consider the nonlinearities that can be induced by the geometry of channels, such as their curvature or the bas-relief patterning of their base. By casting posts, barriers, or membranes─situated inside channels─from stimuli-responsive or flexible materials, the shape, size, or configuration of these elements can be altered by flowing fluids, which may enable autonomous flow control. We also highlight some of the nonlinearities that arise from operating devices at intermediate Reynolds numbers or from using non-Newtonian fluids or liquid metals. We include a brief discussion of relevant practical applications, including flow gating, mixing, and particle separations.
In eukaryotes, the cell volume is observed to be strongly correlated with the nuclear volume. The slope of this correlation depends on the cell type, growth condition, and the physical environment of the cell. We develop a computational model of cell growth and proteome increase, incorporating the kinetics of amino acid import, protein/ribosome synthesis and degradation, and active transport of proteins between the cytoplasm and the nucleoplasm. We also include a simple model of ribosome biogenesis and assembly. Results show that the cell volume is tightly correlated with the nuclear volume, and the cytoplasm-nucleoplasm transport rates strongly influence the cell growth rate as well as the cell/nucleus volume ratio (C/N ratio). Ribosome assembly and the ratio of ribosomal proteins to mature ribosomes also influence the cell volume and the cell growth rate. We find that in order to regulate the cell growth rate and the cell/nucleus volume ratio, the cell must optimally control groups of kinetic and transport parameters together, which could explain the quantitative roles of canonical growth pathways. Finally, although not explicitly demonstrated in this work, we point out that it is possible to construct a detailed proteome distribution using our model and RNAseq data, provided that a quantitative cell division mechanism is known.
In nature, individual cells are compartmentalized by a membrane that protects the cellular elements from the surrounding environment while simultaneously equipped with an antioxidant defense system to alleviate the oxidative stress resulting from light, oxygen, moisture, and temperature. However, this mechanism has not been realized in cellular mimics to effectively encapsulate and retain highly reactive antioxidants. Here, we report cell-inspired hydrogel microcapsules with an interstitial oil layer prepared by utilizing triple emulsion drops as templates to achieve enhanced retention of antioxidants. We employ ionic gelation for the hydrogel shell to prevent exposure of the encapsulated antioxidants to free radicals typically generated during photopolymerization. The interstitial oil layer in the microcapsule serves as an stimulus-responsive diffusion barrier, enabling efficient encapsulation and retention of antioxidants by providing an adequate pH microenvironment until osmotic pressure is applied to release the cargo on-demand. Moreover, addition of a lipophilic reducing agent in the oil layer induces a complementary reaction with the antioxidant, similar to the nonenzymatic antioxidant defense system in cells, leading to enhanced retention of the antioxidant activity. Furthermore, we show the complete recovery and even further enhancement in antioxidant activity by lowering the storage temperature, which decreases the oxidation rate while retaining the complementary reaction with the lipophilic reducing agent.
This perspective considers ways in which the field of microfluidics can increase its impact by improving existing technologies and enabling new functionalities. We highlight applications where microfluidics has made or can make important contributions, including diagnostics, food safety, and the production of materials. The success of microfluidics assumes several forms, including fundamental innovations in fluid mechanics that enable the precise manipulation of fluids at small scales and the development of portable microfluidic chips for commercial purposes. We identify outstanding technical challenges whose resolution could increase the accessibility of microfluidics to users with both scientific and non-technical backgrounds. They include the simplification of procedures for sample preparation, the identification of materials for the production of microfluidic devices in both laboratory and commercial settings, and the replacement of auxiliary equipment with automated components for the operation of microfluidic devices.
Amphiphilic molecules adsorbed at the interface could control the orientation of liquid crystals (LCs) while LCs in turn could influence the distributions of amphiphilic molecules. The studies on the interactions between liquid crystals and amphiphilic molecules at the interface are important for the development of molecular sensors. In this paper, we demonstrate that the development of smectic LC ordering from isotropic at the LC/water interface could induce local high-density distributions of amphiphilic phospholipids. Mixtures of liquid crystals and phospholipids in chloroform are first emulsified in water. By fluorescently labeling the phospholipids adsorbed at the interface, their distributions are visualized under fluorescent confocal microscope. Interestingly, local high-density distributions of phospholipids showing a high fluorescent intensity are observed on the surface of LC droplets. Investigations on the correlation between phospholipid density, surface tension and smectic LC ordering suggest that when domains of smectic LC layers nucleate and grow from isotropic at the LC/water interface as chloroform slowly evaporates at room temperature, phospholipids transition from liquid-expanded to liquid-condensed phases in response to the smectic ordering, which induces a higher surface tension at the interface. The results will provide an important insight into the interactions between liquid crystals and amphiphilic molecules at the interface.
Pickering emulsions are emulsions stabilized by colloidal surfactants, i.e. solid particles. Compared with traditional molecular surfactant-stabilized emulsions, Pickering emulsions show many advantages, such as high resistance to coalescence, long-term stability, good biocompatibility and tunable properties. In recent years, Pickering emulsions are widely applied in scientific researches and industrial applications. In this review, we focus on the influences of particle properties on Pickering emulsions, including particle amphiphilicity, concentration, size and shape, and summarize the strategies developed for the preparation of amphiphilic Janus particles. The applications of Pickering emulsions in food industry, cosmetic industry, material science, drug delivery, biomedical research and vaccine adjuvant will also be covered. Pickering emulsions are a unique system for multi-disciplinary studies and will become more and more important in the future.
Hydrogel microspheres are a novel functional material, arousing much attention in various fields. Microfluidics, a technology that controls and manipulates fluids at the micron scale, has emerged as a promising method for fabricating hydrogel microspheres due to its ability to generate uniform microspheres with controlled geometry. With the development of microfluidic devices, more complicated hydrogel microspheres with multiple structures can be constructed. This review presents an overview of advances in microfluidics for designing and engineering hydrogel microspheres. It starts with an introduction to the features of hydrogel microspheres and microfluidic techniques, followed by a discussion of material selection for fabricating microfluidic devices. Then the progress of microfluidic devices for single-component and composite hydrogel microspheres is described, and the method for optimizing microfluidic devices is also given. Finally, this review discusses the key research directions and applications of microfluidics for hydrogel microsphere in the future.
Living cells have the capability to synthesize molecular components and precisely assemble them from the nanoscale to build macroscopic living functional architectures under ambient conditions. The emerging field of living materials has leveraged microbial engineering to produce materials for various applications but building 3D structures in arbitrary patterns and shapes has been a major challenge. Here we set out to develop a bioink, termed as “microbial ink” that is produced entirely from genetically engineered microbial cells, programmed to perform a bottom-up, hierarchical self-assembly of protein monomers into nanofibers, and further into nanofiber networks that comprise extrudable hydrogels. We further demonstrate the 3D printing of functional living materials by embedding programmed Escherichia coli (E. coli) cells and nanofibers into microbial ink, which can sequester toxic moieties, release biologics, and regulate its own cell growth through the chemical induction of rationally designed genetic circuits. In this work, we present the advanced capabilities of nanobiotechnology and living materials technology to 3D-print functional living architectures.
Chitosan and alginate hydrogels are attractive because they are highly biocompatible and suitable for developing nanomedicine microcapsules. Here we fabricated a polydimethylsiloxane-based droplet microfluidic reactor to synthesize nanomedicine hydrogel microcapsules using Au@CoFeB–Rg3 as a nanomedicine model and a mixture of sodium alginate and PEG-g-chitosan crosslinked by genipin as a hydrogel model. The release kinetics of nanomedicines from the hydrogel were evaluated by simulating the pH and temperature of the digestive tract during drug transport and those of the target pathological cell microenvironment. Their pH and temperature-dependent release kinetics were studied by measuring the mass loss of small pieces of thin films formed by the nanomedicine-encapsulating hydrogels in buffers of pH 1.2, 7.4, and 5.5, which replicate the pH of the stomach, gut and blood, and cancer microenvironment, respectively, at 20 °C and 37 °C, corresponding to the storage temperature of hydrogels before use and normal body temperature. Interestingly, nanomedicine-encapsulating hydrogels can undergo rapid decomposition at pH 5.5 and are relatively stable at pH 7.4 at 37 °C, which are desirable qualities for drug delivery, controlled release, and residue elimination after achieving target effects. These results indicate that the designed nanomedicine hydrogel microcapsule system is suitable for oral administration.
Hierarchical emulsions are interesting for both scientific researches and practical applications. Hierarchical emulsions prepared by microfluidics require complicated device geometry and delicate control of flow rates. Here, a versatile method is developed to design hierarchical emulsions using microfluidic 3D droplet printing in droplet. The process of droplet printing in droplet mimics the dragonfly laying eggs and has advantages of easy processing and flexible design. To demonstrate the capability of the method, double emulsions and triple emulsions with tunable core number, core size, and core composition are prepared. The hierarchical emulsions are excellent templates for the developments of functional materials. Flattened crescent-moon-shaped particles are then fabricated using double emulsions printed in confined 2D space as templates. The particles are excellent delivery vehicles for 2D interfaces, which can load and transport cargos through a well-defined trajectory under external magnetic steering. Microfluidic 3D droplet printing in droplet provides a powerful platform with improved simplicity and flexibility for the design of hierarchical emulsions and functional materials.
We investigate the rheological properties of interpenetrating networks reconstituted from the main cytoskeletal components: filamentous actin, microtubules, and vimentin intermediate filaments. The elastic modulus is determined largely by actin, with little contribution from either microtubules or vimentin. However, vimentin dramatically impacts the relaxation, with even small amounts significantly increasing the relaxation time of the interpenetrating network. This highly unusual decoupling between dissipation and elasticity may reflect weak attractive interactions between vimentin and actin networks.
Polymer retention from the flow of a polymer solution through porous media results in substantial decrease of the permeability; however, the underlying physics of this effect is unknown. While the polymer retention leads to a decrease in pore volume, here we show that this cannot cause the full reduction in permeability. Instead, to determine the origin of this anomalous decrease in permeability, we use confocal microscopy to measure the pore-level velocities in an index-matched model porous medium. We show that they exhibit an exponential distribution and, upon polymer retention, this distribution is broadened yet retains the same exponential form. Surprisingly, the velocity distributions are scaled by the inverse square root of the permeabilities. We combine experiment and simulation to show these changes result from diversion of flow in the random porous-medium network rather than reduction in pore volume upon polymer retention.