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High-throughput selection of cells based on accumulated growth and division using PicoShell particles


Production of high-energy lipids by microalgae may provide a sustainable energy source that can help tackle climate change. However, microalgae engineered to produce more lipids usually grow slowly, leading to reduced overall yields. Unfortunately, culture vessels used to select cells based on growth while maintaining high biomass production, such as well plates, water-in-oil droplet emulsions, and nanowell arrays, do not provide production-relevant environments that cells experience in scaled-up cultures (e.g., bioreactors or outdoor cultivation farms). As a result, strains that are developed in the laboratory may not exhibit the same beneficial phenotypic behavior when transferred to industrial production. Here, we introduce PicoShells, picoliter-scale porous hydrogel compartments, that enable >100,000 individual cells to be compartmentalized, cultured in production-relevant environments, and selected based on growth and bioproduct accumulation traits using standard flow cytometers. PicoShells consist of a hollow inner cavity where cells are encapsulated and a porous outer shell that allows for continuous solution exchange with the external environment. PicoShells allow for cell growth directly in culture environments, such as shaking flasks and bioreactors. We experimentally demonstrate that Chlorella sp., Saccharomyces cerevisiae, and Chinese hamster ovary cells, used for bioproduction, grow to significantly larger colony sizes in PicoShells than in water-in-oil droplet emulsions (P < 0.05). We also demonstrate that PicoShells containing faster dividing and growing Chlorella clonal colonies can be selected using a fluorescence-activated cell sorter and regrown. Using the PicoShell process, we select a Chlorella population that accumulates chlorophyll 8% faster than does an unselected population after a single selection cycle.

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