A number of physiological processes in living organisms involve the selective ‘‘catch and release’’ of biomolecules. Inspired by these biological processes, we use computational modeling to design synthetic systems that can controllably catch, transport, and release specific molecules within the surrounding solution, and, thus, could be harnessed for effective separation processes within microfluidic devices. Our system consists of an array of oscillating, microscopic fins that are anchored onto the floor of a microchannel and immersed in a flowing bilayer fluid. The oscillations drive the fins to repeatedly extend into the upper fluid and then tilt into the lower stream. The fins exhibit a specified wetting interaction with the fluids and specific adhesive interactions with nanoparticles in the solution. With this setup, we determine conditions where the oscillating fins can selectively bind, and thus, ‘‘catch’’ target nanoparticles within the upper fluid stream and then release these particles into the lower stream. We isolate the effects of varying the wetting interaction and the fins’ oscillation modes on the effective extraction of target species from the upper stream. Our findings provide fundamental insights into the system’s complex dynamics and yield guidelines for fabricating devices for the detection and separation of target molecules from complex fluids.
We use computational modeling to design a device that can controllably trap and release particles in solution in response to variations in temperature. The system exploits the thermoresponsive properties of end-grafted fibers and the underlying gel substrate. The fibers mimic the temperature-dependent behavior of biological aptamers, which form a hairpin structure at low temperatures (T) and unfold at higher T, consequently losing their binding affinity. The gel substrate exhibits a lower critical solution temperature and thus, expands at low temperatures and contracts at higher T. By developing a new dissipative particle dynamics simulation, we examine the behavior of this hybrid system in a flowing fluid that contains buoyant nanoparticles. At low T, the expansion of the gel causes the hairpin-shaped fibers to extend into the path of the fluid-driven particle. Exhibiting a high binding affinity for these particles at low temperature, the fibers effectively trap and extract the particles from the surrounding solution. When the temperature is increased, the unfolding of the fiber and collapse of the supporting gel layer cause the particles to be released and transported away from the layer by the applied shear flow. Since the temperature-induced conformational changes of the fiber and polymer gel are reversible, the system can be used repeatedly to “catch and release” particles in solution. Our findings provide guidelines for creating fluidic devices that are effective at purifying contaminated solutions or trapping cells for biological assays.
The efficient extraction of (bio)molecules from fluid mixtures is vital for applications ranging from target characterization in (bio)chemistry to environmental analysis and biomedical diagnostics. Inspired by biological processes that seamlessly synchronize the capture, transport and release of biomolecules, we designed a robust chemomechanical sorting system capable of the concerted catch and release of target biomolecules from a solution mixture. The hybrid system is composed of target-specific, reversible binding sites attached to microscopic fins embedded in a responsive hydrogel that moves the cargo between two chemically distinct environments. To demonstrate the utility of the system, we focus on the effective separation of thrombin by synchronizing the pH-dependent binding strength of a thrombin-specific aptamer with volume changes of the pH-responsive hydrogel in a biphasic microfluidic regime, and show a non-destructive separation that has a quantitative sorting efficiency, as well as the system's stability and amenability to multiple solution recycling.