Droplet microfluidics has revolutionized quantitative high-throughput bioassays and screening, especially in the field of single-cell analysis where applications include cell characterization, antibody discovery and directed evolution. However, droplet microfluidic platforms capable of phenotypic, fluorescence-based readouts and sorting are still mostly found in specialized labs, because their setup is complex. Complementary to conventional FACS, microfluidic droplet sorters allow the screening of cell libraries for secreted factors, or even for the effects of secreted or surface-displayed factors on a second cell type. Furthermore, they also enable PCR-activated droplet sorting for the isolation of genetic material harboring specific markers. In this protocol, we provide a detailed step-by-step guide for the construction of a high-throughput droplet analyzer and sorter, which can be accomplished in ~45 working hours by nonspecialists. The resulting instrument is equipped with three lasers to excite the fluorophores in droplets and photosensors that acquire fluorescence signals in the blue (425-465 nm), green (505-545 nm) and red (580-630 nm) spectrum. This instrument also allows transmittance-activated droplet sorting by analyzing the brightfield light intensity transmitting through the droplets. The setup is validated by sorting droplets containing fluorescent beads at 200 Hz with 99.4% accuracy. We show results from an experiment where droplets hosting single cells were sorted on the basis of increased matrix metalloprotease activity as an application of our workstation in single-cell molecular biology, e.g., to analyze molecular determinants of cancer metastasis.
© 2023. Springer Nature Limited.