Lipidic mesophases are a class of highly ordered soft materials that form when certain lipids are mixed with water. Understanding the relationship between the composition and the microstructure of mesophases is necessary for fundamental studies of self-assembly in amphiphilic systems and for applications, such as the crystallization of membrane proteins. However, the laborious formulation protocol for highly viscous mesophases and the large amounts of material required for sample formulation are significant obstacles in such studies. Here we report a microfluidic platform that facilitates investigations of the phase behavior of mesophases by reducing sample consumption 300-fold, and automating and parallelizing sample formulation. The mesophases were formulated on-chip using less than 80 nL of material per sample and their microstructure was analyzed in situ using small-angle X-ray scattering (SAXS). The 220 μm-thick X-ray compatible platform was comprised of thin polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) layers sandwiched between cyclic olefin copolymer (COC) sheets. Uniform mesophases were prepared using an active on-chip mixing strategy coupled with periodic cooling of the sample to reduce viscosity. We validated the platform by preparing and analyzing mesophases of the lipid monoolein (MO) mixed with aqueous solutions of different concentrations of β-octylglucoside (βOG), a detergent frequently used in membrane protein crystallization. Four samples were prepared in parallel on chip, by first metering and automatically diluting βOG to obtain detergent solutions of different concentration, then metering MO, and finally mixing by actuation of pneumatic valves. Integration of detergent dilution and subsequent mixing significantly reduced the number of manual steps needed for sample preparation. Three different types of mesophases typical for MO were successfully identified in SAXS data from on-chip samples. Microstructural parameters of identical samples formulated in different chips showed excellent agreement. Phase behavior of samples on-chip (~80 nL per sample) corresponded well with that of samples prepared via the traditional coupled-syringe method using at least two orders of magnitude more material (“off-chip”, 35-40 μL per sample), further validating the applicability of the microfluidic platform for on-chip characterization of mesophase microstructure.
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