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Biomicrofluidics. 2012 Nov 7;6(4):44108. doi: 10.1063/1.4765337. eCollection 2012.

Monodisperse alginate microgel formation in a three-dimensional microfluidic droplet generator.

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1
Biosciences Division, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, Tennessee 37831, USA.

Abstract

Droplet based microfluidic systems provide an ideal platform for partitioning and manipulating aqueous samples for analysis. Identifying stable operating conditions under which droplets are generated is challenging yet crucial for real-world applications. A novel three-dimensional microfluidic platform that facilitates the consistent generation and gelation of alginate-calcium hydrogel microbeads for microbial encapsulation, over a broad range of input pressures, in the absence of surfactants is described. The unique three-dimensional design of the fluidic network utilizes a height difference at the junction between the aqueous sample injection and organic carrier channels to induce droplet formation via a surface tension enhanced self-shearing mechanism. Combined within a flow-focusing geometry, under constant pressure control, this arrangement facilitates predictable generation of droplets over a much broader range of operating conditions than that of conventional two-dimensional systems. The impact of operating pressures and geometry on droplet gelation, aqueous and organic material flow rates, microbead size, and bead generation frequency are described. The system presented provides a robust platform for encapsulating single microbes in complex mixtures into individual hydrogel beads, and provides the foundation for the development of a complete system for sorting and analyzing microbes at the single cell level.

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