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1.  Hitting the target: fragment screening with acoustic in situ co-crystallization of proteins plus fragment libraries on pin-mounted data-collection micromeshes 
A method is presented for screening fragment libraries using acoustic droplet ejection to co-crystallize proteins and chemicals directly on micromeshes with as little as 2.5 nl of each component. This method was used to identify previously unreported fragments that bind to lysozyme, thermolysin, and trypsin.
Acoustic droplet ejection (ADE) is a powerful technology that supports crystallographic applications such as growing, improving and manipulating protein crystals. A fragment-screening strategy is described that uses ADE to co-crystallize proteins with fragment libraries directly on MiTeGen MicroMeshes. Co-crystallization trials can be prepared rapidly and economically. The high speed of specimen preparation and the low consumption of fragment and protein allow the use of individual rather than pooled fragments. The Echo 550 liquid-handling instrument (Labcyte Inc., Sunnyvale, California, USA) generates droplets with accurate trajectories, which allows multiple co-crystallization experiments to be discretely positioned on a single data-collection micromesh. This accuracy also allows all components to be transferred through small apertures. Consequently, the crystallization tray is in equilibrium with the reservoir before, during and after the transfer of protein, precipitant and fragment to the micromesh on which crystallization will occur. This strict control of the specimen environment means that the crystallography experiments remain identical as the working volumes are decreased from the few microlitres level to the few nanolitres level. Using this system, lysozyme, thermolysin, trypsin and stachydrine demethylase crystals were co-crystallized with a small 33-compound mini-library to search for fragment hits. This technology pushes towards a much faster, more automated and more flexible strategy for structure-based drug discovery using as little as 2.5 nl of each major component.
PMCID: PMC4014116  PMID: 24816088
in situ X-ray data collection; acoustic droplet ejection; fragment screening; drug discovery; chemical biology; protein crystallization; synchrotron radiation
2.  Acoustic transfer of protein crystals from agarose pedestals to micromeshes for high-throughput screening 
An acoustic high-throughput screening method is described for harvesting protein crystals and combining the protein crystals with chemicals such as a fragment library.
Acoustic droplet ejection (ADE) is an emerging technology with broad applications in serial crystallography such as growing, improving and manipulating protein crystals. One application of this technology is to gently transfer crystals onto MiTeGen micromeshes with minimal solvent. Once mounted on a micromesh, each crystal can be combined with different chemicals such as crystal-improving additives or a fragment library. Acoustic crystal mounting is fast (2.33 transfers s−1) and all transfers occur in a sealed environment that is in vapor equilibrium with the mother liquor. Here, a system is presented to retain crystals near the ejection point and away from the inaccessible dead volume at the bottom of the well by placing the crystals on a concave agarose pedestal (CAP) with the same chemical composition as the crystal mother liquor. The bowl-shaped CAP is impenetrable to crystals. Consequently, gravity will gently move the crystals into the optimal location for acoustic ejection. It is demonstrated that an agarose pedestal of this type is compatible with most commercially available crystallization conditions and that protein crystals are readily transferred from the agarose pedestal onto micromeshes with no loss in diffraction quality. It is also shown that crystals can be grown directly on CAPs, which avoids the need to transfer the crystals from the hanging drop to a CAP. This technology has been used to combine thermolysin and lysozyme crystals with an assortment of anomalously scattering heavy atoms. The results point towards a fast nanolitre method for crystal mounting and high-throughput screening.
PMCID: PMC4304690  PMID: 25615864
macromolecular crystallography; acoustic droplet ejection; crystal mounting; drug discovery; chemical biology; high-throughput screening
3.  A simple technique to reduce evaporation of crystallization droplets by using plate lids with apertures for adding liquids 
This article describes the use of evaporation control lids that are fitted to crystallization plates to improve the reproducibility of trials using as little as 5 nl. The plate lids contain apertures which are large enough for the transfer of protein containing droplets, but small enough to greatly reduce the rate of evaporation during the time needed to prepare the plate.
A method is described for using plate lids to reduce evaporation in low-volume vapor-diffusion crystallization experiments. The plate lids contain apertures through which the protein and precipitants were added to different crystallization microplates (the reservoir was filled before fitting the lids). Plate lids were designed for each of these commonly used crystallization microplates. This system minimizes the dehydration of crystallization droplets containing just a few nanolitres of protein and precipitant, and results in more reproducible diffraction from the crystals. For each lid design, changes in the weight of the plates were used to deduce the rate of evaporation under different conditions of temperature, air movement, droplet size and precipitant. For comparison, the state of dehydration was also visually assessed throughout the experiment. Finally, X-ray diffraction methods were used to compare the diffraction of protein crystals that were conventionally prepared against those that were prepared on plates with plate lids. The measurements revealed that the plate lids reduced the rate of evaporation by 63–82%. Crystals grown in 5 nl drops that were set up with plate lids diffracted to higher resolution than similar crystals from drops that were set up without plate lids. The results demonstrate that plate lids can be instrumental for improving few-nanolitre crystallizations.
PMCID: PMC4259245  PMID: 25484231
crystallization; dehydration; vapor diffusion; high-throughput screening; acoustic droplet ejection; in situ X-ray data collection
4.  Room-temperature serial crystallography using a kinetically optimized microfluidic device for protein crystallization and on-chip X-ray diffraction 
IUCrJ  2014;1(Pt 5):349-360.
An emulsion-based serial crystallographic technology has been developed, in which single crystals are grown in nanolitre-sized droplets inside an X-ray semi-transparent microfluidic chip exploiting a negative feedback mechanism. Diffraction data are measured, one crystal at a time, from a series of room-temperature crystals stored in the chip, and a 93% complete data set is obtained by merging single diffraction frames taken from different unoriented crystals to solve the structure of glucose isomerase to 2.1 Å.
An emulsion-based serial crystallographic technology has been developed, in which nanolitre-sized droplets of protein solution are encapsulated in oil and stabilized by surfactant. Once the first crystal in a drop is nucleated, the small volume generates a negative feedback mechanism that lowers the supersaturation. This mechanism is exploited to produce one crystal per drop. Diffraction data are measured, one crystal at a time, from a series of room-temperature crystals stored on an X-ray semi-transparent microfluidic chip, and a 93% complete data set is obtained by merging single diffraction frames taken from different unoriented crystals. As proof of concept, the structure of glucose isomerase was solved to 2.1 Å, demonstrating the feasibility of high-throughput serial X-ray crystallography using synchrotron radiation.
PMCID: PMC4174877  PMID: 25295176
protein crystallization; X-ray diffraction; serial crystallography; microfluidic devices
5.  Nanovolume optimization of protein crystal growth using the microcapillary protein crystallization system 
Journal of Applied Crystallography  2010;43(Pt 5):1078-1083.
The Microcapillary Protein Crystallization System (MPCS) is used to successfully optimize protein crystals from 28 out of 29 tested proteins. Six protein structures have been determined from diffraction-ready crystals grown inside and harvested directly from the MPCS CrystalCards, which are compatible with the recently commercialized and automated MPCS Plug Maker instrument.
The Microcapillary Protein Crystallization System (MPCS) is a microfluidic, plug-based crystallization technology that generates X-ray diffraction-ready protein crystals in nanolitre volumes. In this study, 28 out of 29 (93%) proteins crystallized by traditional vapor diffusion experiments were successfully crystallized by chemical gradient optimization experiments using the MPCS technology. In total, 90 out of 120 (75%) protein/precipitant combinations leading to initial crystal hits from vapor diffusion experiments were successfully crystallized using MPCS technology. Many of the resulting crystals produced high-quality X-ray diffraction data, and six novel protein structures that were derived from crystals harvested from MPCS CrystalCards are reported.
PMCID: PMC3263815  PMID: 22477778
protein crystals; microfluids; plugs; genomics
6.  The plug-based nanovolume Microcapillary Protein Crystallization System (MPCS) 
The Microcapillary Protein Crystallization System (MPCS) is a new protein-crystallization technology used to generate nanolitre-sized crystallization experiments for crystal screening and optimization. Using the MPCS, diffraction-ready crystals were grown in the plastic MPCS CrystalCard and were used to solve the structure of methionine-R-sulfoxide reductase.
The Microcapillary Protein Crystallization System (MPCS) embodies a new semi-automated plug-based crystallization technology which enables nanolitre-volume screening of crystallization conditions in a plasticware format that allows crystals to be easily removed for traditional cryoprotection and X-ray diffraction data collection. Protein crystals grown in these plastic devices can be directly subjected to in situ X-ray diffraction studies. The MPCS integrates the formulation of crystallization cocktails with the preparation of the crystallization experiments. Within microfluidic Teflon tubing or the microfluidic circuitry of a plastic CrystalCard, ∼10–20 nl volume droplets are generated, each representing a microbatch-style crystallization experiment with a different chemical composition. The entire protein sample is utilized in crystallization experiments. Sparse-matrix screening and chemical gradient screening can be combined in one com­prehensive ‘hybrid’ crystallization trial. The technology lends itself well to optimization by high-granularity gradient screening using optimization reagents such as precipitation agents, ligands or cryoprotectants.
PMCID: PMC2585160  PMID: 19020349
protein crystallization; Microcapillary Protein Crystallization System
7.  X-CHIP: an integrated platform for high-throughput protein crystallization and on-the-chip X-ray diffraction data collection 
The X-CHIP (X-ray Crystallography High-throughput Integrated Platform) is a novel microchip that has been developed to combine multiple steps of the crystallographic pipeline from crystallization to diffraction data collection on a single device to streamline the entire process.
The X-CHIP (X-ray Crystallization High-throughput Integrated Platform) is a novel microchip that has been developed to combine multiple steps of the crystallographic pipeline from crystallization to diffraction data collection on a single device to streamline the entire process. The system has been designed for crystallization condition screening, visual crystal inspection, initial X-ray screening and data collection in a high-throughput fashion. X-ray diffraction data acquisition can be performed directly on-the-chip at room temperature using an in situ approach. The capabilities of the chip eliminate the necessity for manual crystal handling and cryoprotection of crystal samples, while allowing data collection from multiple crystals in the same drop. This technology would be especially beneficial for projects with large volumes of data, such as protein-complex studies and fragment-based screening. The platform employs hydrophilic and hydrophobic concentric ring surfaces on a miniature plate transparent to visible light and X-rays to create a well defined and stable microbatch crystallization environment. The results of crystallization and data-collection experiments demonstrate that high-quality well diffracting crystals can be grown and high-resolution diffraction data sets can be collected using this technology. Furthermore, the quality of a single-wavelength anomalous dispersion data set collected with the X-CHIP at room temperature was sufficient to generate interpretable electron-density maps. This technology is highly resource-efficient owing to the use of nanolitre-scale drop volumes. It does not require any modification for most in-house and synchrotron beamline systems and offers a promising opportunity for full automation of the X-ray structure-determination process.
PMCID: PMC3107051  PMID: 21636893
protein crystallization devices; in situ X-ray analysis; crystallization; crystal visual inspection; diffraction data collection
8.  Precipitation diagram and optimization of crystallization conditions at low ionic strength for deglycosylated dye-decolorizing peroxidase from a basidiomycete 
Precipitation phase diagrams can be rapidly constructed using dispensing-robot technology. These diagrams provide information that assists in optimization of crystal growth.
The growth of suitably sized protein crystals is essential for protein structure determination by X-ray crystallography. In general, crystals are grown using a trial-and-error method. However, these methods have been modified with the advent of microlitre dispensing-robot technology and of protocols that rapidly screen for crystal nucleation conditions. The use of one such automatic dispenser for mixing protein drops (1.3–2.0 µl in volume) of known concentration and pH with precipitating solutions (ejecting 2.0 µl droplets) containing salt is described here. The results of the experiments are relevant to a crystallization approach based on a two-step procedure: screening for the crystal nucleation step employing robotics followed by optimization of the crystallization conditions using incomplete factorial experimental design. Large crystals have successfully been obtained using quantities as small as 3.52 mg protein.
PMCID: PMC1952364  PMID: 16511141
dye-decolorizing peroxidase; automatic dispensers; precipitation diagrams; microlitre crystallization; crystal improvement; diffraction data
9.  Diffraction study of protein crystals grown in cryoloops and micromounts 
Journal of Applied Crystallography  2010;43(Pt 6):1513-1518.
A method for growing crystals on cryoloops or micromounts is described, and diffraction patterns of crystals of three proteins grown by both the new method and the conventional drop method are compared. The study investigates the steps for the automation of the crystal growth and manipulation process and describes the design of a tray for the method.
Protein crystals are usually grown in hanging or sitting drops and generally get transferred to a loop or micromount for cryocooling and data collection. This paper describes a method for growing crystals on cryoloops for easier manipulation of the crystals for data collection. This study also investigates the steps for the automation of this process and describes the design of a new tray for the method. The diffraction patterns and the structures of three proteins grown by both the new method and the conventional hanging-drop method are compared. The new setup is optimized for the automation of the crystal mounting process. Researchers could prepare nanolitre drops under ordinary laboratory conditions by growing the crystals directly in loops or micromounts. As has been pointed out before, higher levels of supersaturation can be obtained in very small volumes, and the new method may help in the exploration of additional crystallization conditions.
PMCID: PMC3253742  PMID: 22477781
protein crystallography; automation; crystal growth; cryoloops; micromounts
10.  Phase-diagram-guided method for growth of a large crystal of glycoside hydrolase family 45 inverting cellulase suitable for neutron structural analysis 
Journal of Synchrotron Radiation  2013;20(Pt 6):859-863.
The crystallization-phase-diagram-guided method is effective for growing large protein crystals for neutron protein crystallography.
Neutron protein crystallography (NPC) is a powerful tool for determining the hydrogen position and water orientation in proteins, but a much larger protein crystal is needed for NPC than for X-ray crystallography, and thus crystal preparation is a bottleneck. To obtain large protein crystals, it is necessary to know the properties of the target protein in the crystallization solution. Here, a crystal preparation method of fungal cellulase PcCel45A is reported, guided by the phase diagram. Nucleation and precipitation conditions were determined by sitting-drop vapor diffusion. Saturation and unsaturation conditions were evaluated by monitoring crystal dissolution, and a crystallization phase diagram was obtained. To obtain a large crystal, crystallization solution was prepared on a sitting bridge (diameter = 5 mm). Initial crystallization conditions were 40 µl of crystallization solution (40 mg ml−1 protein with 30.5% 3-methyl-1,5-pentanediol in 50 mM tris-HCl pH 8.0) with a 1000 µl reservoir (61% 3-methyl-1,5,-pentanediol in 50 mM tris-HCl pH 8.0) at 293 K. After the first crystal appeared, the concentration of precipitant in the reservoir solution was reduced to 60% to prevent formation of further crystals. Finally, we obtained a crystal of 6 mm3 volume (3 mm × 2 mm × 1 mm), which was suitable for neutron diffraction.
PMCID: PMC3795544  PMID: 24121328
cellulase; neutron protein crystallography; crystallization phase diagram
11.  Production of arrays of chemically distinct nanolitre plugs via repeated splitting in microfluidic devices† 
Lab on a chip  2006;6(9):1178-1186.
This paper reports a method for the production of arrays of nanolitre plugs with distinct chemical compositions. One of the primary constraints on the use of plug-based microfluidics for large scale biological screening is the difficulty of fabricating arrays of chemically distinct plugs on the nanolitre scale. Here, using microfluidic devices with several T-junctions linked in series, a single input array of large (~320 nL) plugs was split to produce 16 output arrays of smaller (~20 nL) plugs; the composition and configuration of these arrays were identical to that of the input. This paper shows how the passive break-up of plugs in T-junction microchannel geometries can be used to produce a set of smaller-volume output arrays useful for chemical screening from a single large-volume array. A simple theoretical description is presented to describe splitting as a function of the Capillary number, the capillary pressure, the total pressure difference across the channel, and the geometric fluidic resistance. By accounting for these considerations, plug coalescence and plug–plug contamination can be eliminated from the splitting process and the symmetry of splitting can be preserved. Furthermore, single-outlet splitting devices were implemented with both valve- and volume-based methods for coordinating the release of output arrays. Arrays of plugs containing commercial sparse matrix screens were obtained from the presented splitting method and these arrays were used in protein crystallization trials. The techniques presented in this paper may facilitate the implementation of high-throughput chemical and biological screening.
PMCID: PMC1851925  PMID: 16929397
12.  Crystallization and preliminary X-ray diffraction of the Munc18c–syntaxin41–29 complex 
Cocrystallization with a peptide, free-interface diffusion crystal chips and crystal dehydration were important in the production of diffraction-quality crystals of the Munc18c protein that helps to regulate membrane fusion.
The production of diffraction-quality crystals of Munc18c, a protein involved in regulating vesicular exocytosis in mammals, is reported. The diffraction resolution of Munc18c crystals was optimized by (i) cocrystallizing with a peptide fragment of the Munc18c functional binding partner syntaxin4, (ii) using nanolitre free-interface diffusion crystallization-screening chips and microlitre hanging-drop vapour diffusion and (iii) applying a post-crystallization dehydration treatment. Crystals belonging to the cubic space group P213, with unit-cell parameters a = b = c = 170.8 Å, α = β = γ = 90°, were generated that diffract to 3.7 Å resolution on a laboratory X-ray source.
PMCID: PMC2335071  PMID: 17554178
Munc18c; syntaxin4; free-interface diffusion; dehydration
13.  Semi-automated microseeding of nanolitre crystallization experiments 
A procedure for microseeding into nanolitre crystallization drops is described with selected successful examples.
A simple semi-automated microseeding procedure for nanolitre crystallization experiments is described. Firstly, a microseed stock solution is made from microcrystals using a Teflon bead. A dilution series of this microseed stock is then prepared and dispensed as 100 nl droplets into 96-well crystallization plates, facilitating the incorporation of seeding into high-throughput crystallization pipelines. This basic microseeding procedure has been modified to include additive-screening and cross-seeding methods. Five examples in which these techniques have been used successfully are described.
PMCID: PMC2373990  PMID: 18097093
crystallization; crystal optimization; microseeding; additives
14.  A high-throughput strategy to screen 2D crystallization trials of membrane proteins 
Journal of structural biology  2007;160(3):295-304.
Electron microscopy of two-dimensional (2D) crystals has demonstrated potential for structure determination of membrane proteins. Technical limitations in large-scale crystallization screens have, however, prevented a major breakthrough in the routine application of this technology. Dialysis is generally used for detergent removal and reconstitution of the protein into a lipid bilayer, and devices for testing numerous conditions in parallel are not readily available. Furthermore, the small size of resulting 2D crystals requires electron microscopy to evaluate the results and automation of the necessary steps is essential to achieve a reasonable throughput. We have designed a crystallization block, using standard microplate dimensions, by which 96 unique samples can be dialyzed simultaneously against 96 different buffers and have demonstrated that the rate of detergent dialysis is comparable to those obtained with conventional dialysis devices. A liquid-handling robot was employed to set up 2D crystallization trials with the membrane proteins CopA from Archaeoglobus fulgidus and light-harvesting complex II (LH2) from Rhodobacter sphaeroides. For CopA, 1-week of dialysis yielded tubular crystals and, for LH2, large and well-ordered vesicular 2D crystals were obtained after 24-hours, illustrating the feasibility of this approach. Combined with a high-throughput procedure for preparation of EM-grids and automation of the subsequent negative staining step, the crystallization block offers a novel pipeline that promises to speed up considerably large-scale screening of 2D crystallization and to increase the likelihood of producing well-ordered crystals for analysis by electron crystallography.
PMCID: PMC2211413  PMID: 17951070
Two-dimensional (2D) crystals; membrane proteins; electron crystallography; high-throughput screening; membrane protein reconstitution; negative staining; 96-well format; crystallization block; dialysis block
15.  Crystallization and preliminary X-ray analysis of a marine diatom-infecting single-stranded RNA virus 
A marine diatom-infecting virus was crystallized using the hanging-drop vapour-diffusion method. The crystals belonged to space group P6322, with unit-cell parameters a = b = 448.67, c = 309.76 Å, and diffracted to 4.0 Å resolution.
Crystals of a diatom-infecting virus (CtenRNAV) that diffracted to a resolution of 4.0 Å were grown in a mixture of 2-methyl-2,4-pentanediol (MPD), calcium chloride and sodium acetate. It was possible to freeze the crystals directly at liquid-nitrogen temperature as the reservoir solution, which included about 30% MPD, acted as a cryoprotectant during X-ray diffraction data collection. A data set was collected from a single frozen crystal obtained using this method. The crystals belonged to space group P6322, with unit-cell parameters a = b = 448.67, c = 309.76 Å and two virus particles in the unit cell. The virus-particle orientation was determined using a rotation function and the virus-particle centre was estimated on the basis of crystallographic considerations. The packing of CtenRNAV in the crystal lattice was revealed by this preliminary crystallo­graphic study.
PMCID: PMC3001645  PMID: 21045292
CtenRNAV; diatom-infecting virus
16.  BioPen: direct writing of functional materials at the point of care 
Scientific Reports  2014;4:4872.
Rapid and precise patterning of functional biomaterials is desirable for point-of-care (POC) tissue engineering and diagnostics. However, existing technologies such as dip-pen nanolithography and inkjet printing are currently unsuitable for POC applications due to issues of cost and portability. Here, we report the development of ‘BioPen', a portable tool for continuous, defined and scalable deposition of functional materials with micrometer spatial resolution and nanolitre volumetric resolution. BioPen is based upon the ballpoint pen but with multiple “ink sources” (functional material solutions) and with an apparatus that can be optimized for writing living cells, proteins, nucleic acids, etc. We demonstrate POC detection of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) nucleic acid by writing on paper with BioPen using “ink” consisting of nucleic acid probes and nucleic acid-modified gold nanoparticles. We also demonstrate POC tissue engineering by writing a continuous pattern of living, functional, interconnected cells with a defined extracellular environment. Because it is simple, accurate, inexpensive and portable, BioPen has broad potential for POC detection of diagnostic biomarkers, and for POC engineering of tissues for a range of healing applications.
PMCID: PMC4010928  PMID: 24799039
17.  xtalPiMS: A PiMS-based web application for the management and monitoring of crystallization trials 
Journal of Structural Biology  2011;175(2-2):230-235.
A major advance in protein structure determination has been the advent of nanolitre-scale crystallization and (in a high-throughput environment) the development of robotic systems for storing and imaging crystallization trials. Most of these trials are carried out in 96-well (or higher density) plates and managing them is a significant information management challenge. We describe xtalPiMS, a web-based application for the management and monitoring of crystallization trials. xtalPiMS has a user-interface layer based on the standards of the Protein Information Management System (PiMS) and a database layer which links the crystallization trial images to the meta-data associated with a particular crystallization trial. The user interface has been optimized for the efficient monitoring of high-throughput environments with three different automated imagers and work to support a fourth imager is in progress, but it can even be of use without robotics. The database can either be a PiMS database or a legacy database for which a suitable mapping layer has been developed.
PMCID: PMC3477317  PMID: 21605683
Laboratory Information Management Systems (LIMS); Protein crystallization; Robotic imagers; Java web application; Data management and databases
18.  Advancing Microarray Assembly with Acoustic Dispensing Technology 
Analytical chemistry  2009;81(1):509-514.
In the assembly of microarrays and microarray-based chemical assays and enzymatic bioassays, most approaches use pins for contact spotting. Acoustic dispensing is a technology capable of nanoliter transfers by using acoustic energy to eject liquid sample from an open source well. Although typically used for well plate transfers, when applied to microarraying it avoids drawbacks of undesired physical contact with sample, difficulty in assembling multicomponent reactions on a chip by readdressing, a rigid mode of printing that lacks patterning capabilities, and time-consuming wash steps. We demonstrated the utility of acoustic dispensing by delivering human cathepsin L in a drop-on-drop fashion into individual 50-nanoliter, pre-spotted reaction volumes to activate enzyme reactions at targeted positions on a microarray. We generated variable-sized spots ranging from 200 to 750 μm (and higher), and handled the transfer of fluorescent bead suspensions with increasing source well concentrations of 0.1 to 10 ×108 beads/mL in a linear fashion. There are no tips that can clog and liquid dispensing CVs are generally below 5%. This platform expands the toolbox for generating analytical arrays and meets needs associated with spatially-addressed assembly of multicomponent microarrays on the nanoliter scale.
PMCID: PMC3220162  PMID: 19035650
Microarray; acoustic dispensing; pin spotting; no-contact dispensing; assay development; lab on a chip; screening
19.  Acoustic methods for high-throughput protein crystal mounting at next-generation macromolecular crystallographic beamlines 
Journal of Synchrotron Radiation  2013;20(Pt 5):805-808.
A new system has been developed and tested at the National Synchrotron Light Source with the goal of enabling rapid protein crystal mounting at next-generation macromolecular crystallographic beamlines. The system uses an acoustic ejector to deposit nanoliter-volume droplets containing crystals onto an X-ray transparent conveyor belt, which then moves the droplets into position for cryo-cooling and data collection. The acoustic ejector is capable of operating at a rate of several hundred droplet ejections per second.
To take full advantage of advanced data collection techniques and high beam flux at next-generation macromolecular crystallography beamlines, rapid and reliable methods will be needed to mount and align many samples per second. One approach is to use an acoustic ejector to eject crystal-containing droplets onto a solid X-ray transparent surface, which can then be positioned and rotated for data collection. Proof-of-concept experiments were conducted at the National Synchrotron Light Source on thermolysin crystals acoustically ejected onto a polyimide ‘conveyor belt’. Small wedges of data were collected on each crystal, and a complete dataset was assembled from a well diffracting subset of these crystals. Future developments and implementation will focus on achieving ejection and translation of single droplets at a rate of over one hundred per second.
PMCID: PMC3747951  PMID: 23955046
acoustic droplet ejection; conveyor belt; crystal mounting; high throughput; X-ray diffraction; macromolecular crystallography
20.  In situ electroporation of surface-bound siRNAs in microwell arrays† 
Lab on a Chip  2012;12(5):939-947.
Gene silencing using RNA interference (RNAi) has become a prominent biological tool for gene annotation, pathway analysis, and target discovery in mammalian cells. High-throughput screens conducted using whole-genome siRNA libraries have uncovered rich sets of new genes involved in a variety of biological processes and cellular models of disease. However, high-throughput RNAi screening is not yet a mainstream tool in life science research because current screening platforms are expensive and onerous. Miniaturizing the RNAi screening platform to reduce cost and increase throughput will enable its widespread use and harness its potential for rapid genome annotation. With this aim, we have combined semi-conductor microfabrication and nanolitre dispensing techniques to develop miniaturized electroporation-ready microwell arrays loaded with siRNA molecules in which multiplexed gene knockdown can be achieved. Arrays of microwells are created using high-aspect ratio biocompatible photoresists on optically transparent and conductive Indium-Tin Oxide (ITO) substrates with integrated micro-electrodes to enable in situ electroporation. Non-contact inkjet microarraying allows precise dispensing of nanolitre volumes into the microwell structures. We have achieved parallel electroporation of multiple mammalian cells cultured in these microwell arrays and observed efficient knockdown of genes with surface-bound, printed siRNAs. Further integration of microfabrication and non-contact nanolitre dispensing techniques described here may enable single-substrate whole-genome siRNA screening in mammalian cells.
PMCID: PMC3392120  PMID: 22245984
21.  Understanding Water Equilibration Fundamentals as a Step for Rational Protein Crystallization 
PLoS ONE  2008;3(4):e1998.
Vapor diffusion is the most widely used technique for protein crystallization and the rate of water evaporation plays a key role on the quality of the crystals. Attempts have been made in the past to solve the mass transfer problem governing the evaporation process, either analytically or by employing numerical methods. Despite these efforts, the methods used for protein crystallization remain based on trial and error techniques rather than on fundamental principles.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Here we present a new theoretical model which describes the hanging drop method as a function of the different variables that are known to influence the evaporation process. The model is extensively tested against experimental data published by other authors and considering different crystallizing conditions. Aspects responsible for the discrepancies between the existing theories and the measured evaporation kinetics are especially discussed; they include the characterization of vapor-liquid equilibrium, the role of mass transfer within the evaporating droplet, and the influence of the droplet-reservoir distance.
The validation tests show that the proposed model can be used to predict the water evaporation rates under a wide range of experimental conditions used in the hanging drop vapor-diffusion method, with no parameter fitting or computational requirements. This model combined with protein solubility data is expected to become a useful tool for a priori screening of crystallization conditions.
PMCID: PMC2292262  PMID: 18431483
22.  Using Microfluidics to Decouple Nucleation and Growth of Protein Crystals 
Crystal growth & design  2007;7(11):2192-2194.
A high throughput, low volume microfluidic device has been designed to decouple the physical processes of protein crystal nucleation and growth. This device, called the Phase Chip, is constructed out of poly(dimethylsiloxane) (PDMS) elastomer. One of the Phase Chip’s innovations is to exploit surface tension forces to guide each drop to a storage chamber. We demonstrate that nanoliter water-in-oil drops of protein solutions can be rapidly stored in individual wells thereby allowing the screening of 1000 conditions while consuming a total of only 10 μg protein on a 20 cm2 chip. Another significant advance over current microfluidic devices is that each well is in contact with a reservoir via a dialysis membrane through which only water and other low molecular weight organic solvents can pass, but not salt, polymer, or protein. This enables the concentration of all solutes in a solution to be reversibly, rapidly, and precisely varied in contrast to current methods, such as the free interface diffusion or sitting drop methods, which are irreversible. The Phase Chip operates by first optimizing conditions for nucleation by using dialysis to supersaturate the protein solution, which leads to nucleation of many small crystals. Next, conditions are optimized for crystal growth by using dialysis to reduce the protein and precipitant concentrations, which leads small crystals to dissolve while simultaneously causing only the largest ones to grow, ultimately resulting in the transformation of many small, unusable crystals into a few large ones.
PMCID: PMC2707080  PMID: 19590751
microfluidics; PDMS; water permeation; high throughput; protein crystallization; phase diagram; nucleation; growth; Ostwald ripening
23.  User-loaded SlipChip for equipment-free multiplexed nanoliter-scale experiments 
This paper describes a microfluidic approach to perform multiplexed nanoliter-scale experiments by combining a sample with multiple different reagents, each at multiple mixing ratios. This approach employs a user-loaded, equipment-free SlipChip. The mixing ratios, characterized by diluting a fluorescent dye, could be controlled by the volume of each of the combined wells. The SlipChip design was validated on ~12 nL scale by screening the conditions for crystallization of glutaryl-CoA dehydrogenase from Burkholderia pseudomallei against 48 different reagents; each reagent was tested at 11 different mixing ratios, for a total of 528 crystallization trials. The total consumption of the protein sample was ~ 10 μL. Conditions for crystallization were successfully identified. The crystallization experiments were successfully scaled up in well plates using the conditions identified in the SlipChip. Crystals were characterized by X-ray diffraction and provided a protein structure in a different space group and at a higher resolution than the structure obtained by conventional methods. In this work, this user-loaded SlipChip has been shown to handle reliably fluids of diverse physicochemical properties, such as viscosities and surface tensions. Quantitative measurements of fluorescent intensities and high-resolution imaging were straighforward to perform in these glass SlipChips. Surface chemistry was controlled using fluorinated lubricating fluid, analogous to the fluorinated carrier fluid used in plug-based crystallization. Thus, we expect this approach to be valuable in a number of areas beyond protein crystallization, especially those areas where droplet-based microfluidic systems have demonstrated successes, including measurements of enzyme kinetics and blood coagulation, cell-based assays, and chemical reactions.
PMCID: PMC2802657  PMID: 20000708
24.  Crystallization screening test for the whole-cell project on Thermus thermophilus HB8 
Acta Crystallographica Section F  2008;64(Pt 6):487-491.
Three conventional robots were subjected to a crystallization screening test involving 18 proteins from T. thermophilus HB8 using the sitting- and hanging-drop vapour-diffusion and microbatch methods. The number of diffraction-quality crystals and the amount of time required to obtain visible crystals depended greatly on the robots used. The combined use of different robots, especially for protein samples exhibiting low crystallization success rates, significantly increased the chance of obtaining diffraction-quality crystals.
It was essential for the structural genomics of Thermus thermophilus HB8 to efficiently crystallize a number of proteins. To this end, three conventional robots, an HTS-80 (sitting-drop vapour diffusion), a Crystal Finder (hanging-drop vapour diffusion) and a TERA (modified microbatch) robot, were subjected to a crystallization condition screening test involving 18 proteins from T. thermophilus HB8. In addition, a TOPAZ (microfluidic free-interface diffusion) designed specifically for initial screening was also briefly examined. The number of diffraction-quality crystals and the time of appearance of crystals increased in the order HTS-80, Crystal Finder, TERA. With the HTS-80 and Crystal Finder, the time of appearance was short and the rate of salt crystallization was low. With the TERA, the number of diffraction-quality crystals was high, while the time of appearance was long and the rate of salt crystallization was relatively high. For the protein samples exhibiting low crystallization success rates, there were few crystallization conditions that were common to the robots used. In some cases, the success rate depended greatly on the robot used. The TOPAZ showed the shortest time of appearance and the highest success rate, although the crystals obtained were too small for diffraction studies. These results showed that the combined use of different robots significantly increases the chance of obtaining crystals, especially for proteins exhibiting low crystallization success rates. The structures of 360 of 944 purified proteins have been successfully determined through the combined use of an HTS-80 and a TERA.
PMCID: PMC2496871  PMID: 18540056
protein crystallization; crystallization screening; crystallization success rates
25.  Crystallization of prostaglandin-H synthase for X-ray structure analysis. 
Prostaglandin-H (PGH) synthase from ram seminal vesicles is a dimeric integral membrane protein of molecular weight 140 kDa. PGH synthase is a key enzyme in the biosynthesis of prostaglandins, has cyclooxygenase and peroxidase activities, and contains heme as a coenzyme. In the peroxidation step of its reaction. PGH synthase can use xenobiotics as co-substrates and can catalyze the metabolic activation of carcinogens such as diethylstilbestrol. To gain a detailed understanding of the inner workings of PGH synthase, we are investigating its three-dimensional structure by X-ray crystallography. A purification procedure was established that yields stable homogeneous PGH synthase that is at least 80% holoenzyme. The crucial aspect is the proper choice of type and concentration of detergent in all steps of the procedure. Single crystals can be obtained from concentrated solutions of PGH synthase in the presence of polyethylene glycol 4000 as a precipitant. Crystallization occurs during gas phase equilibration with a concentrated salt solution. The enzyme solution becomes turbid and forms a second liquid phase in which PGH synthase crystals grow up to 0.2 mm in length in the course of days. Manipulation of these crystals is very difficult due to the small volume of the growth phase. The crystals dissolved rapidly in all aqueous media into which they were transferred for mounting in X-ray capillaries. Therefore, we have not yet been able to demonstrate their true X-ray scattering power. A crystal provisionally dry mounted diffracted to about 8 A resolution.
PMCID: PMC1567999  PMID: 2125559

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