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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.
Electrophoretic and dielectrophoretic approaches to separations can provide unique capabilities. In the past, capillary and microchip-based approaches to electrophoresis have demonstrated extremely high-resolution separations. More recently, dielectrophoretic systems have shown excellent results for the separation of bioparticles. Here we demonstrate resolution of a difficult pair of targets: gentamicin resistant and susceptible strains of Staphylococcus epidermidis. This separation has significant potential implications for healthcare. This establishes a foundation for biophysical separations as a direct diagnostic tool, potentially improving nearly every figure of merit for diagnostics and antibiotic stewardship. The separations are performed on a modified gradient insulator-based dielectrophoresis (g-iDEP) system and demonstrate that the presence of antibiotic resistance enzymes (or secondary effects) produces a sufficient degree of electrophysical difference to allow separation. The differentiating factor is the ratio of electrophoretic to dielectrophoretic mobilities. This factor is 4.6 ± 0.6 × 109 V m−2 for the resistant strain, versus 9.2 ± 0.4 × 109 V m−2 for the susceptible strain. Using g-iDEP separation, this difference produces clear and easily discerned differentiation of the two strains.