CotA laccase: high-throughput manipulation and analysis of recombinant enzyme libraries expressed in E. coli using droplet-based microfluidics

Thomas Beneyton, Faith Coldren, Jean-Christophe Baret, Andrew D Griffiths, Valérie Taly
Analyst 2014 July 7, 139 (13): 3314-23
We present a high-throughput droplet-based microfluidic analysis/screening platform for directed evolution of CotA laccase: droplet-based microfluidic modules were combined to develop an efficient system that allows cell detection and sorting based on the enzymatic activity. This platform was run on two different operating modes: the "analysis" mode allowing the analysis of the enzymatic activity in droplets at very high rates (>1000 Hz) and the "screening" mode allowing sorting of active droplets at 400 Hz. The screening mode was validated for the directed evolution of the cytoplasmic CotA laccase from B. subtilis, a potential interesting thermophilic cathodic catalyst for biofuel cells. Single E. coli cells expressing either the active CotA laccase (E. coli CotA) or an inactive frameshifted variant (E. coli ΔCotA) were compartmentalized in aqueous droplets containing expression medium. After cell growth and protein expression within the droplets, a fluorogenic substrate was "picoinjected" in each droplet. Fluorescence-activated droplet sorting was then used to sort the droplets containing the desired activity and the corresponding cells were then recultivated and identified using colorimetric assays. We demonstrated that E. coli CotA cells were enriched 191-fold from a 1 : 9 initial ratio of E. coli CotA to E. coli ΔCotA cells (or 437-fold from a 1 : 99 initial ratio) using a sorting rate of 400 droplets per s. This system allows screening of 10(6) cells in only 4 h, compared to 11 days for screening using microtitre plate-based systems. Besides this low error rate sorting mode, the system can also be used at higher throughputs in "enrichment" screening mode to make an initial purification of a library before further steps of selection. Analysis mode, without sorting, was used to rapidly quantify the activity of a CotA library constructed using error-prone PCR. This mode allows analysis of 10(6) cells in only 1.5 h.

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