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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2006 Dec 19;103(51):19243-8. Epub 2006 Dec 11.

Nanoliter microfluidic hybrid method for simultaneous screening and optimization validated with crystallization of membrane proteins.

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  • 1Department of Chemistry and Institute for Biophysical Dynamics, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL 60637, USA.


High-throughput screening and optimization experiments are critical to a number of fields, including chemistry and structural and molecular biology. The separation of these two steps may introduce false negatives and a time delay between initial screening and subsequent optimization. Although a hybrid method combining both steps may address these problems, miniaturization is required to minimize sample consumption. This article reports a "hybrid" droplet-based microfluidic approach that combines the steps of screening and optimization into one simple experiment and uses nanoliter-sized plugs to minimize sample consumption. Many distinct reagents were sequentially introduced as approximately 140-nl plugs into a microfluidic device and combined with a substrate and a diluting buffer. Tests were conducted in approximately 10-nl plugs containing different concentrations of a reagent. Methods were developed to form plugs of controlled concentrations, index concentrations, and incubate thousands of plugs inexpensively and without evaporation. To validate the hybrid method and demonstrate its applicability to challenging problems, crystallization of model membrane proteins and handling of solutions of detergents and viscous precipitants were demonstrated. By using 10 microl of protein solution, approximately 1,300 crystallization trials were set up within 20 min by one researcher. This method was compatible with growth, manipulation, and extraction of high-quality crystals of membrane proteins, demonstrated by obtaining high-resolution diffraction images and solving a crystal structure. This robust method requires inexpensive equipment and supplies, should be especially suitable for use in individual laboratories, and could find applications in a number of areas that require chemical, biochemical, and biological screening and optimization.

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