Microwell arrays are important tools for studying single cell behavior and cell-cell interactions, both in microbial and mammalian systems. However, retrieval of cells from microwell arrays with high spatial precision remains a major technical hurdle that prevents follow-up genetic and phenotypic characterization of cells within observed microwells. This work describes a new, material-based approach to grow and retrieve live bacterial cells from small (≥20 μm diameter) microwells in an array using the plant pathogen Agrobacterium tumefaciens as a model bacterium. Our approach uses a light-responsive, step-polymerized poly(ethylene glycol) hydrogel interface as a membrane that confines motile cells within microwells while allowing nutrient exchange and cell growth. The key design feature is the photodegradability of the membrane, as it enables individual wells of interest to be opened using patterned UV light for selective release and retrieval of cells. Extraction can occur in parallel from any number and combination of wells defined by the user. These advancements represent a new use for light-responsive hydrogels and the ability to retrieve cells from microwells with high spatial precision enables several applications that require the isolation and characterization of cells with rare phenotypes from heterogeneous populations.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Biomedical Engineering
- Biochemistry, medical