Low power, high throughput continuous flow PCR instruments for environmental applications

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Continuous monitoring in the adequate temporal and spatial scale is necessary for a better understanding of environmental variations. But field deployments of molecular biological analysis platforms in that scale are

Continuous monitoring in the adequate temporal and spatial scale is necessary for a better understanding of environmental variations. But field deployments of molecular biological analysis platforms in that scale are currently hindered because of issues with power, throughput and automation. Currently, such analysis is performed by the collection of large sample volumes from over a wide area and transporting them to laboratory testing facilities, which fail to provide any real-time information. This dissertation evaluates the systems currently utilized for in-situ field analyses and the issues hampering the successful deployment of such bioanalytial instruments for environmental applications. The design and development of high throughput, low power, and autonomous Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) instruments, amenable for portable field operations capable of providing quantitative results is presented here as part of this dissertation. A number of novel innovations have been reported here as part of this work in microfluidic design, PCR thermocycler design, optical design and systems integration. Emulsion microfluidics in conjunction with fluorinated oils and Teflon tubing have been used for the fluidic module that reduces cross-contamination eliminating the need for disposable components or constant cleaning. A cylindrical heater has been designed with the tubing wrapped around fixed temperature zones enabling continuous operation. Fluorescence excitation and detection have been achieved by using a light emitting diode (LED) as the excitation source and a photomultiplier tube (PMT) as the detector. Real-time quantitative PCR results were obtained by using multi-channel fluorescence excitation and detection using LED, optical fibers and a 64-channel multi-anode PMT for measuring continuous real-time fluorescence. The instrument was evaluated by comparing the results obtained with those obtained from a commercial instrument and found to be comparable. To further improve the design and enhance its field portability, this dissertation also presents a framework for the instrumentation necessary for a portable digital PCR platform to achieve higher throughputs with lower power. Both systems were designed such that it can easily couple with any upstream platform capable of providing nucleic acid for analysis using standard fluidic connections. Consequently, these instruments can be used not only in environmental applications, but portable diagnostics applications as well.