Sorting by interfacial tension (SIFT): label-free selection of live cells based on single-cell metabolism
Selection of live cells from a population is critical in many biological studies and biotechnologies. We present here a novel droplet microfluidic approach that allows for label-free and passive selection of live cells using the glycolytic activity of individual cells. It was observed that with the use of a specific surfactant utilized to stabilize droplet formation, the interfacial tension of droplets was very sensitive to pH. After incubation, cellular lactate release results in droplets containing a live cell to attain a lower pH than other droplets. This enables the sorting of droplets containing live cells when confined droplets flow over a microfabricated trench oriented diagonally with respect to the direction of flow. The technique is demonstrated with human U87 glioblastoma cells for the selection of only droplets containing a live cell while excluding either empty droplets or droplets containing a dead cell. This label-free sorting method, dubbed sorting by interfacial tension (SIFT) presents a new strategy to sort diverse cell types based on metabolic activity.
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