Tuneable cell-laden double-emulsion droplets for enhanced signal detection

Siyuan Zhuang, Hangrui Liu, David W. Inglis*, Ming Li

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Water-in-oil-in-water (w/o/w) or double-emulsion (DE) droplets have been widely used for cellular assays at a single-cell level because of their stability and biocompatibility. The oil shell of w/o/w droplets plays the role of a semipermeable membrane that allows substances with low molecular weight (e.g., water) to travel through but restricts those with high molecular weight (e.g., fluorescent biomarkers). Therefore, the core of DEs can be manipulated using osmosis, resulting in the shrinking or swelling of the core. Water leaves the inner aqueous phase to the outer phase via the oil shell when the osmotic pressure of the outer phase is higher than that in the inner phase, causing the shrinkage of DEs and vice versa. These processes can be achieved by transferring the DEs to hypertonic or hypotonic solutions. Manipulation of the core size of DEs can be beneficial to cellular assays. First, due to the selectivity of the oil shell of DEs, the concentration of biomarkers in the core increases when the inner aqueous phase is shrunk, resulting in the enhancement of biosignals. We demonstrate this by encapsulating the Bgl3 enzyme-secreting yeast with a substrate that displays fluorescence after hydrolyzation. In a second application, a single GFP-tagged yeast cell was encapsulated in DEs. After swelling the core of DEs, we observe that the larger core of DEs promotes cell growth compared to those with the smaller cores, leading to more intracellular proteins (green-fluorescent protein) for screening. These osmotic manipulations provide new tools for droplet-based biochemistry.

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2039-2046
Number of pages8
JournalAnalytical Chemistry
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 24 Jan 2023


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