Open-source microfluidic design: MIT opens online repository
Seen at Metafluidics.org, the site is built as a free repository of designs for lab-on-a-chip devices, submitted by all sorts of inventors, including trained scientists and engineers, hobbyists, students, and amateur makers. Users can browse the site for devices ranging from simple cell sorters and fluid mixers, to more complex chips with niche dedicated functionalities.
The new site also hosts a social platform for the microfluidics community where users can log in to submit a design, comment on other designs and download design files to reproduce a featured device or improve on it.
“There’s a familiar experience for people in microfluidics: you see a really amazing paper that shows you a design, but if you want to try to copy the design, the actual design files that are a critical part of reproducing or remixing a device are not shared in any systematic way”, explains David S. Kong, director of the MIT Media Lab’s new Community Biotechnology Initiative.
“As a result, researchers around the world are in parallel reinventing the wheel. It’s one of the reasons why open-source in general is a very powerful set of principles. It can really accelerate the diffusion of technology.”
Kong and his colleagues outlined the open-source platform in a paper published last week in the journal Nature Biotechnology. With Metafluidics, the researchers emulated popular open-source repositories such as GitHub and Thingiverse, albeit with a focus on microfluidics.
Each device uploaded to the site includes a brief description, along with a list of materials used to fabricate the chip, and its associated design files, such as computer-aided-design (CAD) drawings.
The researchers submitted a novel device to the site to demonstrate the open-source platform’s potential for use in synthetic biology. Using common microfluidic parts and an open-source controller, or valving system, the team designed a genetic circuit assembly device — a chip that automatically combines DNA fragments to form a new genetic sequence capable of performing a new function when embedded in a living cell.
“Our hope is, by demonstrating an application like DNA assembly with our open-source system, this will encourage others to reproduce our system and remix it for applications that are foundational to synthetic biology,” Kong says.
The site is expected to democratize microfluidics and bring up new ideas from unexpected contributors.