Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Life Sciences

Major Professor

Mitchel J. Doktycz

Committee Members

Michael L. Simpson, Engin Serpersu, Eric T. Boder


Exploring and understanding how the smallest scale features of a cell affect biochemical reactions has always been a challenge. Nanoscale fabrication advancements have allowed scientists to create small volume reaction containers that resemble the physical scale of cell membranes. Engineers seek to use biological design principles to manipulate information and import new functionality to such synthetic devices, which in turn, play a crucial role in allowing them to explore the effects of physical transport and extreme conditions of temperature and pH on reaction systems. Engineered reaction containers can be physically and chemically defined to control the flux of molecules of different sizes and charge. The design and testing of such a container is described here. It has a volume of 19 pL and has defined slits of 10-200 nm. The device successfully contains DNA and protein molecules and has been used to conduct and analyze enzyme reactions under different substrate concentrations and a continuous cell-free protein synthesis. The effect of DNA concentration and slit size on protein yield is also discussed.

Glucose oxidase and horseradish peroxidase were loaded in the small volume container and fed with a solution containing glucose and Amplex Red™ to produce Resorufin. Fluorescent microscopy was used to monitor the reaction, which was carried out under microfluidic control. Enzyme kinetics were characterized and compared with conventional scale results.

Continuous cell free protein synthesis in arrays of nanoporous, picoliter volume containers has also been achieved. A multiscale fabrication process allows for the monolithic integration of the containers and an addressable microfluidic network. Synthesis of enhanced green fluorescent protein (eGFP) in the nanoporous containers continues beyond 24 hours and yields more than twice the amount of protein, on a per volume basis, than conventional scale batch reactions. These picoliter, nanoporous containers provide new ways for quick determination of enzyme kinetics and continuous protein synthesis in microfluidic systems. They can be used in a wide variety of applications such as drug discovery, clinical diagnostics and high-throughput screening.

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