Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Shuffling Microbes to Find the Magic Fuel Bug

An international team of researchers at Harvard have developed a tiny device to sort through millions of microbes and enzymes to find optimal fuel-producers.
In Massachusetts, a team [linking] researchers at Harvard, MIT, the Universite de Strasbourg, YNano, the National Science Foundation, the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, and the Agence National de la Recherche have developed what they call a “microfluidic sorting device” that will use 10 million times less reagent and reduce screening costs by a factor of 1 million in identifying potential biofuels-producing microorganisms and separating them from less attractive enzymes or bacteria. _BiofuelsDigest
The scientists have created a microfluidics device using an array of forking nanotubules capable of selecting between levels of cellular activity.
Basically the name “microfluidic sorting device” says it all. In this process, microscopic drops of liquid pass through a sequence of nanotubes that fork in two directions. The drops are treated with a surfactant to prevent sticking and clumping, so they act more like marbles in a chute than normal drops of liquid. Trapped within each drop is an individual cell. When a drop reaches the fork, a laser measures the level of fluorescence in the cell. The higher the fluorescence, the higher the cell’s activity level, and the more desirable it is. The active cells are pulled into the “keep” fork by an electrical force called dielectrophoresis. The other cells drop off into the “discard” fork. In one demonstration, the device sorted 100 million (yes million) variants of a high-efficiency enzyme... _CleanTechnica

This type of high-throughput screening of potential microbes is already used in other fields of science -- including pharmacology. Such tools will speed up the search for better fuels, better drugs, better materials of all types. We are living in a biological world of immense diversity. Humans now have the keys to the world's treasure trove.



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