The technique vastly speeds up understanding of how the proteins function and how to target drugs.
Photo: The silicone microfluidic chip has an array of 1,568 reaction chambers. Channels etched in the chip connect the chambers to control pipes attached to the top.
Figuring out how a protein or enzyme works, and understanding how genetic mutations affect these molecules that are fundamental to life, can often take years. Researchers must alter hundreds of the molecule’s amino acid building blocks one-by-one, produce each mutated enzyme in the lab and test how each mutation affects the enzyme’s ability to carry out its job. Now, a glass chip etched with tiny channels could reduce that time to mere hours by allowing researchers to test more than a thousand mutations at a time. A 22 July paper in Science describes how the new system, called High-Throughput Microfluidic Enzyme Kinetics (HT-MEK), could provide a faster way for scientists to study disease-causing proteins, develop enzymes that break down environmental toxins and understand the evolutionary relationships between different species.