An array microhabitat system for high throughput studies of microalgal growth under controlled nutrient gradients†
Microalgae have been increasingly recognized in the fields of environmental and biomedical engineering because of its use as base materials for biofuels or biomedical products, and also the urgent needs to control harmful algal blooms protecting water resources worldwide. Central to the theme is the growth rate of microalgae under the influences of various environmental cues including nutrients, pH, oxygen tension and light intensity. Current microalgal culture systems, e.g. raceway ponds or chemostats, are not designed for system parameter optimizations of cell growth. In this article, we present the development of an array microfluidic system for high throughput studies of microalgal growth under well defined environmental conditions. The microfluidic platform consists of an array of microhabitats flanked by two parallel side channels, all of which are patterned in a thin agarose gel membrane. The unique feature of the device is that each microhabitat is physically confined suitable for both motile and non-motile cell culture, and at the same time, the device is transparent and can be perfused through the two side channels amendable for precise environmental control of photosynthetic microorganisms. This microfluidic system is used to study the growth kinetics of a model microalgal strain, Chlamydomonas reinhardtii (C. reinhardtii), under ammonium (NH4Cl) concentration gradients. Experimental results show that C. reinhardtii follows Monod growth kinetics with a half-saturation constant of 1.2 ± 0.3 μM. This microfluidic platform provides a fast (~50 fold speed increase), cost effective (less reagents and human intervention) and quantitative technique for microalgal growth studies, in contrast to the current chemostat or batch cell culture system. It can be easily extended to investigate growth kinetics of other microorganisms under either single or co-culture setting.