Interdroplet bilayer arrays in millifluidic droplet traps from 3D-printed moulds†
In droplet microfluidics, aqueous droplets are typically separated by an oil phase to ensure containment of molecules in individual droplets of nano-to-picoliter volume. An interesting variation of this method involves bringing two phospholipid-coated droplets into contact to form a lipid bilayer in-between the droplets. These interdroplet bilayers, created by manual pipetting of microliter droplets, have proved advantageous for the study of membrane transport phenomena, including ion channel electrophysiology. In this study, we adapted the droplet microfluidics methodology to achieve automated formation of interdroplet lipid bilayer arrays. We developed a ‘millifluidic’ chip for microliter droplet generation and droplet packing, which is cast from a 3D-printed mould. Droplets of 0.7–6.0 μL volume were packed as homogeneous or heterogeneous linear arrays of 2–9 droplets that were stable for at least six hours. The interdroplet bilayers had an area of up to 0.56 mm2, or an equivalent diameter of up to 850 μm, as determined from capacitance measurements. We observed osmotic water transfer over the bilayers as well as sequential bilayer lysis by the pore-forming toxin melittin. These millifluidic interdroplet bilayer arrays combine the ease of electrical and optical access of manually pipetted microdroplets with the automation and reproducibility of microfluidic technologies. Moreover, the 3D-printing based fabrication strategy enables the rapid implementation of alternative channel geometries, e.g. branched arrays, with a design-to-device time of just 24–48 hours.