TERRA addresses the lack of accessibility of microfluidics to the synthetic biology community by automating the exportation of outputs of microfluidic experiments onto standard lab vessels, such as a 96-well plate. Currently, researchers can either manually collect these outputs and transfer them into plates for later analysis or invest in highly specialized equipment, such as embedded sensors, to run real time, on chip analysis.1 Manual collection disrupts the benefits of automated microfluidic experiments, and implementing sensors requires extensive knowledge which synthetic biologists typically do not have.2 Incorporating sensors and other analytical systems on microfluidic chips requires expertise of microelectronics and fluid dynamics, as well as time for characterization of the devices. TERRA is the accessible and automated solution to incorporate microfluidic technology into the experimental workflow for synthetic biologists.
The Problem and TERRASome of the reasons why microfluidic devices are currently inaccessible and not widely used in the field of synthetic biology are as follows:
- A lack of standardization across the microfluidic industry - differences in chip sizes, materials, and manufacturing methods
- Difficult to integrate sensors into microfluidic devices - requires knowledge of microelectronics and fluid dynamics as well as takes time to fully characterize the system
- Difficult to export the output of microfluidic devices in an organized manner - harder to integrate into other workflows
- A lack of standardization of synthetic biology protocols - different labs use variations of similar protocols making it harder to design microfluidic chips for a general synthetic biology protocol
- High entry costs to begin manufacturing microfluidic chips
- TERRA is microfluidic agnostic - since TERRA was designed to be compatible with both self-designed and commercial microfluidic chips, TERRA treats the microfluidic chip of interest like a black box system. Through the TERRA Adapter, the user connects their chip of interest to TERRA to facilitate select and redirect outputs.
- TERRA is an automated system capable of selectively dispensing the output of a microfluidic chip into common lab vessels - as a system, TERRA consists of an active XY-plane and UI interface designed to accurately dispense the outputs of a microfluidic chip to a desired location on a laboratory vessel such as a 96 well plate. The ability to accurately dispense the output of the microfluidic chip enables effective integration of TERRA into the workflow of various synthetic biology procedures. Additionally, exporting onto standard laboratory vessels allows researchers to analyze the microfluidic outputs using benchtop equipment already in the lab, such as a plate reader or flow cytometer, reducing the need to incorporate sensors into microfluidic devices.
- Works in conjunction with the 2017 BostonU Hardware iGEM team’s project MARS - MARS designed a set of 9 standardized microfluidic chips capable of running 9 common synthetic biology lab protocols. Additionally, MARS created a series of videos and documentation, Microfluidics 101, designed to introduce people to the basic principles and workings of microfluidics. This helps bridge the knowledge gap as well as created microfluidic chips for standardized protocols.
- TERRA is application agnostic and cost effective - Since the project is microfluidic based, it has a variety of potential applications from liquid handling to PCR. Due to its DIY and open-sourced nature, TERRA is a low-cost solution, which further serves to increase its accessibility to the community.