Continuous Flow Syringe Pumps For Modern Research Applications

Continuous flow syringe pumps deliver fluid at highly precise rates. These syringe pump systems have many applications in basic and applied research. The following are brief highlights of recent research in which continuous flow syringe pumps were critical to the scientific outcome.

Microalgae Purification for Producing Sustainable Biomass

What was done, and why? Syed et al.1  have substantially purified a lipid-rich microalgae from a mixture containing common, yet undesired, competitive microalgae. Researchers are now closer to rendering microalgae a viable source of sustainable biomass for chemical raw materials, energy production, and other applications.

Research setup: The researchers used a Chemyx syringe pump and a spiral eight-loop polydimethylsiloxane microchannel to remove Phaeodactylum tricornutum (smaller; 11 m linear diameter) microalgae from Tetraselmis suecica (larger; 26 m major diameter) species by inertial focusing. The basic idea is that channel geometry and fluid flow rate work together to focus the larger microbial species to one lateral position within the microchannel, and the smaller species to another lateral position, thereby purifying the microbial suspension.

Research findings: At a flow rate of 1 mL/min, up to 95% of the undesired cells were removed and up to 90% of the desired cells were recovered. There was no clear loss of cell viability and the concentration of contaminating cells did not clearly affect the quality of the purification.

Research implications: Microalgae have many advantages as a source of sustainable biomass (such as higher biomass productivity compared to conventional plants, capacity for growth in wastewater, and so on), but are plagued by microbial contamination issues. Although this initial research advances the practical utility of microalgae by offering a gentle means of purification, future research should evaluate more realistic biomass mixtures such as more than two cell types.

Research implications: Microalgae have many advantages as a source of sustainable biomass (such as higher biomass productivity compared to conventional plants, capacity for growth in wastewater, and so on), but are plagued by microbial contamination issues. Although this initial research advances the practical utility of microalgae by offering a gentle means of purification, future research should evaluate more realistic biomass mixtures such as more than two cell types.

Research funding and conflicting interests: The Research Foundation (Flanders, Belgium) and the Australian Research Council funded this research. The researchers do not provide a conflict of interest statement.

Synthesizing a Challenging Functional Group

What was done, and why? Hock et al.2 report a one-step synthesis of the difluoromethyl-substituted cyclopropane functional group. Their protocol will be useful for efficiently synthesizing insecticides, antiviral agents, and other molecules for medical and research purposes.

Research setup: Although bulk-scale chemistry failed to yield the desired product, the researchers successfully used a syringe pump (Chemyx and another company) and the continuous flow technique to synthesize the key intermediate difluoromethyl diazomethane in a 200-L microreactor. Afterwards, a conventional synthesis was sufficient to prepare the aforementioned cyclopropane functional group from various styrene derivatives.

Research findings: The researchers used a rhodium(II)-based catalyst to prepare a range of difluorocyclopropane derivatives in as high as 68% yield. Electron-donating or withdrawing substituents; ortho, meta, or para substitution; and substituted styrenes were generally compatible with the researchers’ procedure (exceptions include heterocycles and the compound allylbenzene).

Research implications: The key reaction of the aforementioned synthesis requires continuous flow to succeed. Researchers now have a facile protocol for synthesizing a functional group that would otherwise be substantially difficult to synthesize, and the new protocol will facilitate synthesis of useful agricultural chemicals and pharmaceuticals.

Research funding and conflicting interests: The researchers do not report a source of funding for their studies. The researchers do not provide a conflict of interest statement.

Cheaply Purifying Valuable Antibodies

What was done, and why? Espitia-Saloma et al.3 have explored the capacity of polymer/salt aqueous two-phase purification media in a microfluidic device to purify valuable proteins, without the need for the industrial standard of protein A chromatography. When optimized, their approach will greatly reduce the cost of purifying antibodies, which are used to diagnose and treat many diseases.

Research setup: The researchers used Chemyx syringe pumps to obtain lamellar flow in a polydimethylsiloxane microfluidic device. Their multistage configuration was designed for maximal antibody (IgG) recovery into the phosphate-enriched phase of the purification media.

Research findings: The researchers processed 1 kg of purification media in 12 min and recovered 90% of the added IgG, although cell culture contaminants (as seen in real-world purifications) dramatically reduced the success of the purification. Although the microfluidics technique as applied here requires optimization, it is far faster than analogous antibody purification in standard large-scale laboratory glassware.

Research implications: Researchers know how to produce antibodies that specifically bind to almost any intended target (e.g., a peptide expressed on the surface of a particular type of cancer cell); this is why antibodies are tremendously useful. Reducing a major limitation of antibodies—the cost of purification—will tremendously benefit medicine and basic science.

Research funding and conflicting interests: The Monterrey Institute of Technology and the National Council of Science and Technology (Mexico) funded this research. The researchers declare no conflict of interest.

Membraneless Organelle Assembly in Living Cells

What was done, and why? Falahati and Wieschaus.4 found that both active and thermodynamically driven processes are important for nucleolus assembly in fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster) embryos. This is important for understanding how cells self-assemble into functional architectures, and possibly how cells deteriorate over the course of Alzheimer’s and other diseases characterized by pathological protein aggregates.

Research setup: The researchers placed fruit fly embryos in a microfluidic channel in which temperature could be tightly regulated with the assistance of a Chemyx syringe pump. This research tested six proteins, each of which localize to different subcompartments of the nucleolus (where ribosomes, the subcellular structure that synthesizes proteins, are fabricated) and function in different steps of ribosome assembly.

Research findings: Through temperature-control experiments, the researchers found that two proteins show behaviors that are consistent with the need for active processes (energy input) to spatially localize within the nucleolus and carry out their functions. The other four proteins seem to depend primarily on thermodynamic processes (the polymer science principle of liquid–liquid phase separation) to do so.

Research implications: Researchers have spent decades learning how cells use molecular machinery to spatially organize the myriad biomolecules within the cell interior. By gaining insight into whether and how cells use fundamental principles of polymer science to spatially organize their interiors, researchers will come closer to fabricating a living cell from the bottom up, and understanding a possible physical contributor to currently incurable, fatal diseases.

Research funding and conflicting interests: The U.S. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development funded this research. The researchers declare no conflict of interest.

References

  1. Bioresource Technol., 2018; DOI: 10.1016/j.biortech.2017.12.065
  2. Chem. Commun., 2016; DOI: 10.1039/c6cc07745e
  3. Biotechnol. J., 2016; DOI: 10.1002/biot.201400565
  4. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci., 2017; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1615395114

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