Scientists have developed a new technique to speed up enzyme study. It is called HT-MEK — short for High-Throughput Microfluidic Enzyme Kinetics. It can compress years of work into just a few weeks by enabling thousands of enzyme experiments to be performed simultaneously. HT-MEK could give insights into how even the most distant sections of enzymes work together to accomplish their extraordinary reactivity by allowing scientists to investigate beyond the small “active site” of an enzyme where substrate binding occurs.
HT-MEK combines two existing technologies to speed up enzyme study. The first is microfluidics, which involves molding polymer chips to create microscopic channels to manipulate fluids precisely. The second is cell-free protein synthesis, a technology that takes only those crucial pieces of biological machinery required for protein production and combines them into a soupy extract to create enzymes synthetically, without requiring living cells to serve as incubators.
The scientists have automated it to use printers to deposit microscopic spots of synthetic DNA coding for the enzyme they want onto a slide and then align nanoliter-sized chambers filled with the protein starter mix. Because each tiny section contains only a thousandth of a millionth of a liter of material, the scientists can engineer thousands of variants of an enzyme in a single device and study them in parallel.