Microfluidic droplet sorting enables the high-throughput screening and selection of water-in-oil microreactors at speeds and volumes unparalleled by traditional well-plate approaches. Most such systems sort using fluorescent reporters on modified substrates or reactions that are rarely industrially relevant. We describe a microfluidic system for high-throughput sorting of nanoliter droplets based on direct detection using electrospray ionization mass spectrometry (ESI-MS). Droplets are split, one portion is analyzed by ESI-MS, and the second portion is sorted based on the MS result. Throughput of 0.7 samples s-1 is achieved with 98 % accuracy using a self-correcting and adaptive sorting algorithm. We use the system to screen ≈15 000 samples in 6 h and demonstrate its utility by sorting 25 nL droplets containing transaminase expressed in vitro. Label-free ESI-MS droplet screening expands the toolbox for droplet detection and recovery, improving the applicability of droplet sorting to protein engineering, drug discovery, and diagnostic workflows.
Keywords: biocatalysis; droplet microfluidics; high-throughput screening; mass spectrometry; microreactors.
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