Dielectrophoresis (DEP) is a technique that influences the motion of polarizable particles in an electric field gradient. DEP can be combined with other effects that influence the motion of a particle in a microchannel, such as electrophoresis and electroosmosis. Together, these three can be used to probe properties of an analyte, including charge, conductivity, and zeta potential. DEP shows promise as a high-resolution differentiation and separation method, with the ability to distinguish between subtly-different populations. This, combined with the fast (on the order of minutes) analysis times offered by the technique, lend it many of the features necessary to be used in rapid diagnostics and point-of-care devices.
Here, a mathematical model of dielectrophoretic data is presented to connect analyte properties with data features, including the intercept and slope, enabling DEP to be used in applications which require this information. The promise of DEP to distinguish between analytes with small differences is illustrated with antibiotic resistant bacteria. The DEP system is shown to differentiate between methicillin-resistant and susceptible Staphylococcus aureus. This differentiation was achieved both label free and with bacteria that had been fluorescently-labeled. Klebsiella pneumoniae carbapenemase-positive and negative Klebsiella pneumoniae were also distinguished, demonstrating the differentiation for a different mechanism of antibiotic resistance. Differences in dielectrophoretic behavior as displayed by S. aureus and K. pneumoniae were also shown by Staphylococcus epidermidis. These differences were exploited for a separation in space of gentamicin-resistant and -susceptible S. epidermidis. Besides establishing the ability of DEP to distinguish between populations with small biophysical differences, these studies illustrate the possibility for the use of DEP in applications such as rapid diagnostics.