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Microfluidic methods to study single cells and peptide-membrane interactions

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Microfluidics is nowadays an established technology and provides a huge toolbox for analytical and biophysical methods. Microfluidic platforms facilitate precise metering and handling of fluid volumes down to a few hundred picoliters, positioning of cells, vesicles or microparticles, creating of chemically defined liquid environments, and tailoring mechanical or physical conditions. In this presentation, our recent microfluidic methods to study processes and properties of membranes of living cells as well as lipid vesicles are introduced and discussed. For these studies, we use an array of hydrodynamic traps to immobilize the cells or vesicles. Each trap is positioned in a small microchamber that is defined by a valve. The valve can be opened and closed quickly to allow for a complete fluid exchange in the chamber. In combination with with high-sensitivity detection techniques based on fluorescence spectroscopy and microscopy kinetic and mechanistic studies of molecule-membrane interactions can be performed. We are particularly interested in monitoring interactions of peptides and membranes. We used different types of short peptides that interacted in various ways with the artificial membranes: permeating the membrane; partitioning into the membrane; aggregating inside the membrane; fluidizing or lysing the membrane by formation of pores. The reasons for the different properties are under discussion and in the focus of ongoing studies, with the ultimate goal to understand and predict the properties of the peptides and membranes. Both the technological improvements of the platform as well as the acquired knowledge about membranes will open the way to produce and tailor membranes on demand and hence, to mimic living cells in future. In addition, an overview on further microfluidic methods for studies of membranes under shear stress, mechanical strains and for fusion of membranes and the creation of artificial cells will be presented.

This talk is part of the Biophysical Seminars series.

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