Innovation and Partnerships Office

Precise, High Throughput Droplet Manipulation 2013-128


  • Research – pharmaceutical, enzyme, genetics


  • Can screen an extremely large number of biological samples
  • Capable of evaluating multiple experimental conditions at one time
  • Generates droplets quickly and efficiently based on various characteristics
  • Utilizes new and effective droplet mixing and sorting mechanisms


Researchers at the Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) have developed the first hybrid system combining a droplet microfluidic platform with digital microfluidics to enable both high throughput and precise control of droplet manipulation for biological research. Droplets can be generated and mixed, and a library, i.e., more than two types of droplet species, can be sorted simply by applying electricity.

Electrodes, temperature, and hydrodynamic pressure redirect droplets into specific channels. Droplets are sorted through alternate flow paths based on size, electronegativity, fluorescent wavelength, and several other biological characteristics by applying varying electric fields to channels surrounding individual droplets. Once a droplet has been separated into its own incubation well through these channel manipulations, it can be stored for a prolonged period of time. Utilizing electric potentials in this way allows for the sorting of droplets into a variety of categories, as opposed to the binary sorting that is currently common practice. This JBEI technology provides a highly efficient and effective way of selecting and gathering individual proteins, DNA segments, or cellular components.

Purifying, separating and screening large numbers of biological samples is essential for biological research. Current screening methods can be complex, time consuming, difficult to control and expensive, and many are not suitable for large numbers of samples. These techniques provide an efficient way to accomplish large-scale biological assortments and manipulations. The electrode-containing device reduces the time required for manual sorting of cellular components, while also separating and incubating individual samples as needed. By first generating micro droplets from a larger liquid sample, this device allows for the separation of proteins and molecules that are essential in areas such as drug, enzyme, and genetic research.

DEVELOPMENT STAGE: Proven principle

STATUS: Patent pending. Available for licensing or collaborative research.