Department Seminar

Microfluidic Tools for Microbial Biotechnology

Speaker Details:

Cullen R. Buie
Esther and Harold E. Edgerton Career Development Chair Associate Professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Lecture Details:

April 21, 2016
12:30-1:20 p.m.
Foege N130A, Wallace H. Coulter Seminar Room


In microbiology, the ability to obtain genetic information far outpaces the ability to obtain phenotypic (or physical) information. We combat this challenge using techniques that exploit microscale transport phenomena to determine connections between cell phenotypes and genetics. First, we exploit sub-species level differences in bacterial surface polarizability in novel three dimensional insulator based dielectrophoresis (3DiDEP) systems. Compared to previous embodiments of dielectrophoresis, 3DiDEP devices have an order of magnitude higher sensitivity to changes in cell surface phenotype. Our recent work has shown that 3DiDEP can be useful to distinguish bacteria with sub-species resolution. Next, we have developed a rapid microfluidic assay to quantitatively measure electric field conditions required to open pores in cells using electroporation. Electroporation is widely used to deliver foreign DNA into host microbes for applications in synthetic biology and genetic engineering. However, electroporation has been successful on a relatively small number of microbes due in part to challenges in determining appropriate electroporation conditions (field strength, pulse width, etc.). Our rapid microfluidic electroporation assay can evaluate a range of electroporation conditions in a fraction of a second, a process that previously took hours. Results of this work will broaden the scope of bacteria available for applications of synthetic biology ranging from biofuel production to human microbiome based therapeutics.

Speaker Bio:

Cullen R. Buie is an Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering and the Esther and Harold E. Edgerton Career Development Chair at MIT. He attended The Ohio State University where he received his B.S. in Mechanical Engineering (2003). After OSU, Cullen attended Stanford University as a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow and obtained his M.S. (2005) and Ph.D. (2009) in Mechanical Engineering. At MIT his laboratory explores flow physics at the microscale for applications in materials science and microbiology. His research is applicable to a diverse array of problems, from anti-biofouling surfaces and biofuels to energy storage and bacterial infections. Cullen is the recipient of numerous awards for his research and service including the National Science Foundation CAREER Award (2012), the DuPont Young Professor Award (2013), the DARPA Young Faculty Award (2013), and the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (2016).