Many bacteria on earth exist in surface-attached communities known as biofilms. These films are responsible for manifold problems, including hospital-acquired infections and biofouling, but they can also be beneficial. Biofilm growth depends on the transport of nutrients and waste, for which diffusion is thought to be the main source of transport. However, diffusion is ineffective for transport over large distances and thus should limit growth. Nevertheless, biofilms can grow to be very large. Here we report the presence of a remarkable network of well-defined channels that form in wildtype Bacillus subtilis biofilms and provide a system for enhanced transport. We observe that these channels have high permeability to liquid flow and facilitate the transport of liquid through the biofilm. In addition, we find that spatial variations in evaporative flux from the surface of these biofilms provide a driving force for the flow of liquid in the channels. These channels offer a remarkably simple system for liquid transport, and their discovery provides insight into the physiology and growth of biofilms.
We introduce a facile approach for the production of gas-filled microcapsules designed to withstand high pressures. We exploit microfluidics to fabricate water-filled microcapsules that are then externally triggered to become gas-filled, thus making them more echogenic. In addition, the gas-filled microcapsules have a solid polymer shell making them resistant to pressure-induced buckling, which makes them more mechanically robust than traditional prestabilized microbubbles; this should increase the potential of their utility for acoustic imaging of porous media with high hydrostatic pressures such as oil reservoirs.
A major challenge for a drug-delivery system is to engineer stable drug carriers with excellent biocompatibility, monodisperse size, and controllable release profiles. In this study, we used a microfluidic technique to encapsulate thermally hydrocarbonized porous silicon (THCPSi) microparticles within solid lipid microparticles (SLMs) to overcome the drawbacks accompanied by THCPSi microparticles. Formulation and process factors, such as lipid matrixes, organic solvents, emulsifiers, and methods to evaporate the organic solvents, were all evaluated and optimized to prepare monodisperse stable SLMs. FTIR analysis together with confocal images showed the clear deposition of THCPSi microparticles inside the monodisperse SLM matrix. The formation of monodisperse THCPSi solid lipid microcomposites (THCPSi SLMCs) not only altered the surface hydrophobicity and morphology of THCPSi microparticles but also remarkably enhanced their cytocompatibility with intestinal (Caco-2 and HT-29) cancer cells. Regardless of the solubility of the loaded therapeutics (aqueous insoluble, fenofibrate and furosemide; aqueous soluble, methotrexate and ranitidine) and the pH values of the release media (1.2, 5.0, and 7.4), the time for the release of 50% of the payloads from THCPSi SLMC was at least 1.3 times longer than that from the THCPSi microparticles. The sustained release of both water-soluble and -insoluble drugs together with a reduced burst-release effect from monodisperse THCPSi SLMC was achieved, indicating the successful encapsulation of THCPSi microparticles into the SLM matrix. The fabricated THCPSi SLMCs exhibited monodisperse spherical morphology, enhanced cytocompatibility, and prolonged both water-soluble and -insoluble drug release, which makes it an attractive controllable drug-delivery platform.
We describe a microfluidic device with an integrated microwave heater specifically designed to dielectrically heat non-aqueous droplets using time-varying electrical fields with the frequency range between 700 and 900 MHz. The precise control of frequency, power, temperature and duration of the applied field opens up new vistas for experiments not attainable by conventional microwave heating. We use a non-contact temperature measurement system based on fluorescence to directly determine the temperature inside a single droplet. The maximum temperature achieved of the droplets is 50 degrees C in 15 ms which represents an increase of about 25 degrees C above the base temperature of the continuous phase. In addition we use an infrared camera to monitor the thermal characteristics of the device allowing us to ensure that heating is exclusively due to the dielectric heating and not due to other effects like non-dielectric losses due to electrode or contact imperfection. This is crucial for illustrating the potential of dielectric heating of benzyl alcohol droplets for the synthesis of metal oxides. We demonstrate the utility of this technology for metal oxide nanoparticle synthesis, achieving crystallization of tungsten oxide nanoparticles and remarkable microstructure, with a reaction time of 64 ms, a substantial improvement over conventional heating methods.
Neutrophils are characterized by their distinct nuclear shape, which is thought to facilitate the transit of these cells through pore spaces less than one-fifth of their diameter. We used human promyelocytic leukemia (HL-60) cells as a model system to investigate the effect of nuclear shape in whole cell deformability. We probed neutrophil-differentiated HL-60 cells lacking expression of lamin B receptor, which fail to develop lobulated nuclei during granulopoiesis and present an in vitro model for Pelger-Huet anomaly; despite the circular morphology of their nuclei, the cells passed through micron-scale constrictions on similar timescales as scrambled controls. We then investigated the unique nuclear envelope composition of neutrophil-differentiated HL-60 cells, which may also impact their deformability; although lamin A is typically down-regulated during granulopoiesis, we genetically modified HL-60 cells to generate a subpopulation of cells with well defined levels of ectopic lamin A. The lamin A-overexpressing neutrophil-type cells showed similar functional characteristics as the mock controls, but they had an impaired ability to pass through micron-scale constrictions. Our results suggest that levels of lamin A have a marked effect on the ability of neutrophils to passage through micron-scale constrictions, whereas the unusual multilobed shape of the neutrophil nucleus is less essential.
Capillary microfluidic devices are used to prepare monodisperse polymersomes consisting of a hydrogel core and a bilayer membrane of amphiphilic diblock-copolymers. To make polymersomes, water-in-oil-in-water double-emulsion drops are prepared as templates through single-step emulsification in a capillary microfluidic device. The amphiphile-laden middle oil phase of the double-emulsion drop dewets from the surface of the innermost water drop, which contains hydrogel prepolymers; this dewetting leads to the formation of a bilayer membrane. Subsequently, the oil phase completely separates from the innermost water drop, leaving a polymersome. Upon UV illumination of the polymersome, the prepolymers encapsulated within the interior are crosslinked, forming a hydrogel core. The hydrogel network within the polymersomes facilitates sustained release of the encapsulated materials and increases the stability of the polymersomes through the formation of a scaffold to support the bilayer. In addition, this approach provides a facile method to make monodisperse hydrogel particles directly dispersed in water.
Elastomeric polymeric microspheres are employed as a direct-writing tool for the continuous delivery of molecular materials. The mechanical properties enabling patterning are investigated and modelled. The proposed approach provides a low cost and versatile lithographic method for transferring features with real-time dynamic control.
We present a droplet-based microfluidics protocol for high-throughput analysis and sorting of single cells. Compartmentalization of single cells in droplets enables the analysis of proteins released from or secreted by cells, thereby overcoming one of the major limitations of traditional flow cytometry and fluorescence-activated cell sorting. As an example of this approach, we detail a binding assay for detecting antibodies secreted from single mouse hybridoma cells. Secreted antibodies are detected after only 15 min by co-compartmentalizing single mouse hybridoma cells, a fluorescent probe and single beads coated with anti-mouse IgG antibodies in 50-pl droplets. The beads capture the secreted antibodies and, when the captured antibodies bind to the probe, the fluorescence becomes localized on the beads, generating a clearly distinguishable fluorescence signal that enables droplet sorting at similar to 200 Hz as well as cell enrichment. The microfluidic system described is easily adapted for screening other intracellular, cell-surface or secreted proteins and for quantifying catalytic or regulatory activities. In order to screen similar to 1 million cells, the microfluidic operations require 2-6 h; the entire process, including preparation of microfluidic devices and mammalian cells, requires 5-7 d.
We use confocal microscopy to directly visualize the spatial fluctuations in fluid flow through a three-dimensional porous medium. We find that the velocity magnitudes and the velocity components both along and transverse to the imposed flow direction are exponentially distributed, even with residual trapping of a second immiscible fluid. Moreover, we find pore-scale correlations in the flow that are determined by the geometry of the medium. Our results suggest that despite the considerable complexity of the pore space, fluid flow through it is not completely random.
Flow-focusing microfluidic techniques were used to provide access to core shell microcapsules in which the shell is composed of end tapped poly(phthalaldehydes) that depolymerize completely from head-to-tail in response to fluoride. Microcapsules made from these depolymerizable polymers provide an amplified response to the applied chemical signal, where the rate of the response can be tuned both by varying the length of the polymer and the thickness of the shell wall.
We show that the nonlinear mechanical response of networks formed from un-cross-linked fibrin or collagen type I continually changes in response to repeated large-strain loading. We demonstrate that this dynamic evolution of the mechanical response arises from a shift of a characteristic nonlinear stress-strain relationship to higher strains. Therefore, the imposed loading does not weaken the underlying matrices but instead delays the occurrence of the strain stiffening. Using confocal microscopy, we present direct evidence that this behavior results from persistent lengthening of individual fibers caused by an interplay between fiber stretching and fiber buckling when the networks are repeatedly strained. Moreover, we show that covalent cross-linking of fibrin or collagen inhibits the shift of the nonlinear material response, suggesting that the molecular origin of individual fiber lengthening may be slip of monomers within the fibers. Thus, a fibrous architecture in combination with constituents that exhibit internal plasticity creates a material whose mechanical response adapts to external loading conditions. This design principle may be useful to engineer novel materials with this capability.
A microfluidic-based approach for the fabrication of organic contaminants absorbing core-shell particles is demonstrated. The hydrophobic porous core absorbs oil while the hydrophilic surface enables the particles to be well-dispersed in aqueous solutions. These particles can uptake oil from aqueous solution saturated with oil or via direct contact with oil blobs as depicted in the figure.
The mechanical properties of a cell determine many aspects of its behavior, and these mechanics are largely determined by the cytoskeleton. Although the contribution of actin filaments and microtubules to the mechanics of cells has been investigated in great detail, relatively little is known about the contribution of the third major cytoskeletal component, intermediate filaments (IFs). To determine the role of vimentin IF (VIF) in modulating intracellular and cortical mechanics, we carried out studies using mouse embryonic fibroblasts (mEFs) derived from wild-type or vimentin(-/-) mice. The VIFs contribute little to cortical stiffness but are critical for regulating intracellular mechanics. Active microrheology measurements using optical tweezers in living cells reveal that the presence of VIFs doubles the value of the cytoplasmic shear modulus to similar to 10 Pa. The higher levels of cytoplasmic stiffness appear to stabilize organelles in the cell, as measured by tracking endogenous vesicle movement. These studies show that VIFs both increase the mechanical integrity of cells and localize intracellular components.
We report an approach to fully visualize the flow of two immiscible fluids through a model three-dimensional (3-D) porous medium at pore-scale resolution. Using confocal microscopy, we directly image the drainage of the medium by the nonwetting oil and subsequent imbibition by the wetting fluid. During imbibition, the wetting fluid pinches off threads of oil in the narrow crevices of the medium, forming disconnected oil ganglia. Some of these ganglia remain trapped within the medium. By resolving the full 3-D structure of the trapped ganglia, we show that the typical ganglion size, as well as the total amount of residual oil, decreases as the capillary number Ca increases; this behavior reflects the competition between the viscous pressure in the wetting fluid and the capillary pressure required to force oil through the pores of the medium. This work thus shows how pore-scale fluid dynamics influence the trapped fluid configurations in multiphase flow through 3-D porous media. (C) 2013 American Institute of Chemical Engineers AIChE J, 59: 1022-1029, 2013
Multiple emulsions, which are widely applied in a myriad of fields because of their unique ability to encapsulate and protect active ingredients, are typically produced by sequential drop-formations and drop-encapsulations using shear-induced emulsification. Here we report a qualitatively novel method of creating highly controlled multiple emulsions from lower-order emulsions. By carefully controlling the interfacial energies, we adjust the spreading coefficients between different phases to cause drops of one fluid to completely engulf other drops of immiscible fluids; as a result multiple emulsions are directly formed by simply putting preformed lower-order emulsion drops together. Our approach has highly controllable flexibility. We demonstrate this in preparation of both double and triple emulsions with a controlled number of inner drops and precisely adjusted shell thicknesses including ultra-thin shells. Moreover, this controllable drop-engulfing-drop approach has a high potential in further investigations and applications of microfluidics. Importantly, this innovative approach opens a window to exploit new phenomena occurring in fluids at the microscale level, which is of great significance for developing novel microfluidics.