A new experimental platform promises to speed up the discovery of how infectious bacteria become resistant to antibiotics (antibiotic resistance). The microfluidic application quickly encapsulates bacteria with varying concentrations of antibiotics to analyze how they evolve to become resistant.
The idea of using microfluidics to encapsulate cells isn’t new; there are plenty of lab-on-a-chip devices already. What the researchers have done is apply it to biomarker discovery for antibiotic resistance.
The established technique for studying antibiotic resistance involves feeding antibiotics in gradually increasing amounts to vials of bacteria in a solution. That reveals how some microbes evolve resistance, but favors mutants that grow fastest and makes it difficult to control other factors like population size, number of generations and the space they occupy, all of which can influence the evolutionary process. Putting cells into microdroplets overcomes those limitations by allowing researchers to fine-tune their environments, allowing them to study new evolutionary trajectories.