A droplet microfluidics platform for rapid microalgal growth and oil production analysis.
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Microalgae have emerged as a promising source for producing future renewable biofuels. Developing better microalgal strains with faster growth and higher oil production rates is one of the major routes towards economically viable microalgal biofuel production. In this work, we present a droplet microfluidics-based microalgae analysis platform capable of measuring growth and oil content of various microalgal strains with single-cell resolution in a high-throughput manner. The platform allows for encapsulating a single microalgal cell into a water-in-oil emulsion droplet and tracking the growth and division of the encapsulated cell over time, followed by on-chip oil quantification. The key feature of the developed platform is its capability to fluorescently stain microalgae within microdroplets for oil content quantification. The performance of the developed platform was characterized using the unicellular microalga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii and the colonial microalga Botryococcus braunii. The application of the platform in quantifying growth and oil accumulation was successfully confirmed using C. reinhardtii under different culture conditions, namely nitrogen-replete and nitrogen-limited conditions. These results demonstrate the capability of this platform as a rapid screening tool that can be applied to a wide range of microalgal strains for analyzing growth and oil accumulation characteristics relevant to biofuel strain selection and development. Biotechnol. Bioeng. 2016;113: 1691-1701. 2016 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.