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Microfluidic tools for protein crystallography

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X-ray crystallography is the most widely used method to determine the structure of proteins, providing an understanding of their functions in all aspects of life to advance applications in fields

X-ray crystallography is the most widely used method to determine the structure of proteins, providing an understanding of their functions in all aspects of life to advance applications in fields such as drug development and renewable energy. New techniques, namely serial femtosecond crystallography (SFX), have unlocked the ability to unravel the structures of complex proteins with vital biological functions. A key step and major bottleneck of structure determination is protein crystallization, which is very arduous due to the complexity of proteins and their natural environments. Furthermore, crystal characteristics govern data quality, thus need to be optimized to attain the most accurate reconstruction of the protein structure. Crystal size is one such characteristic in which narrowed distributions with a small modal size can significantly reduce the amount of protein needed for SFX. A novel microfluidic sorting platform was developed to isolate viable ~200 nm – ~600 nm photosystem I (PSI) membrane protein crystals from ~200 nm – ~20 μm crystal samples using dielectrophoresis, as confirmed by fluorescence microscopy, second-order nonlinear imaging of chiral crystals (SONICC), and dynamic light scattering. The platform was scaled-up to rapidly provide 100s of microliters of sorted crystals necessary for SFX, in which similar crystal size distributions were attained. Transmission electron microscopy was used to view the PSI crystal lattice, which remained well-ordered postsorting, and SFX diffraction data was obtained, confirming a high-quality, viable crystal sample. Simulations indicated sorted samples provided accurate, complete SFX datasets with 3500-fold less protein than unsorted samples. Microfluidic devices were also developed for versatile, rapid protein crystallization screening using nanovolumes of sample. Concentration gradients of protein and precipitant were generated to crystallize PSI, phycocyanin, and lysozyme using modified counterdiffusion. Additionally, a passive mixer was created to generate unique solution concentrations within isolated nanowells to crystallize phycocyanin and lysozyme. Crystal imaging with brightfield microscopy, UV fluorescence, and SONICC coupled with numerical modeling allowed quantification of crystal growth conditions for efficient phase diagram development. The developed microfluidic tools demonstrated the capability of improving samples for protein crystallography, offering a foundation for continued development of platforms to aid protein structure determination.

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Date Created
  • 2016

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Foundational studies for array-based electrophoretic exclusion of proteins

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Disease prevention and personalized treatment will be impacted by the continued integration of protein biomarkers into medical practice. While there are already numerous biomarkers used clinically, the detection of protein

Disease prevention and personalized treatment will be impacted by the continued integration of protein biomarkers into medical practice. While there are already numerous biomarkers used clinically, the detection of protein biomarkers among complex matrices remains a challenging problem. One very important strategy for improvements in clinical application of biomarkers is separation/preconcentration, impacting the reliability, efficiency and early detection. Electrophoretic exclusion can be used to separate, purify, and concentrate biomarkers. This counterflow gradient technique exploits hydrodynamic flow and electrophoretic forces to exclude, enrich, and separate analytes. The development of this technique has evolved onto an array-based microfluidic platform which offers a greater range of geometries/configurations for optimization and expanded capabilities and applications. Toward this end of expanded capabilities, fundamental studies of subtle changes to the entrance flow and electric field configurations are investigated. Three closely related microfluidic interfaces are modeled, fabricated and tested. A charged fluorescent dye is used as a sensitive and accurate probe to test the concentration variation at these interfaces. Models and experiments focus on visualizing the concentration profile in areas of high temporal dynamics, and show strong qualitative agreement, which suggests the theoretical assessment capabilities can be used to faithfully design novel and more efficient interfaces. Microfluidic electrophoretic separation technique can be combined with electron microscopy as a protein concentration/purification step aiding in sample preparation. The integrated system with grids embedded into the microdevice reduces the amount of time required for sample preparation to less than five minutes. Spatially separated and preconcentrated proteins are transferred directly from an upstream reservoir onto grids. Dilute concentration as low as 0.005 mg/mL can be manipulated to achieve meaningful results. Selective concentration of one protein from a mixture of two proteins is also demonstrated. Electrophoretic exclusion is also used for biomarker applications. Experiments using a single biomarker are conducted to assess the ability of the microdevice for enrichment in central reservoirs. A mixture of two protein biomarkers are performed to evaluate the proficiency of the device for separations capability. Moreover, a battery is able to power the microdevice, which facilitates the future application as a portable device.

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Date Created
  • 2019