Titer-plate formatted continuous flow thermal reactors: Design and performance of a nanoliter reactor

Pin-Chuan Chen, Center for Bio-ModularMulti-Scale System, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA, USA.
Daniel S. Park
Byoung-Hee You
Namwon Kim
Taehyun Park
Steven A. Soper
Dimitris E. Nikitopoulos
Michael C. Murphy


Arrays of continuous flow thermal reactors were designed, configured, and fabricated in a 96-device (12 × 8) titer-plate format with overall dimensions of 120 mm × 96 mm, with each reactor confined to a 8 mm × 8 mm footprint. To demonstrate the potential, individual 20-cycle (740 nL) and 25-cycle (990 nL) reactors were used to perform the continuous flow polymerase chain reaction (CFPCR) for amplification of DNA fragments of different lengths. Since thermal isolation of the required temperature zones was essential for optimal biochemical reactions, three finite element models, executed with ANSYS (v. 11.0, Canonsburg, PA), were used to characterize the thermal performance and guide system design: (1) a single device to determine the dimensions of the thermal management structures; (2) a single CFPCR device within an 8 mm × 8 mm area to evaluate the integrity of the thermostatic zones; and (3) a single, straight microchannel representing a single loop of the spiral CFPCR device, accounting for all of the heat transfer modes, to determine whether the PCR cocktail was exposed to the proper temperature cycling. In prior work on larger footprint devices, simple grooves between temperature zones provided sufficient thermal resistance between zones. For the small footprint reactor array, 0.4 mm wide and 1.2 mm high fins were necessary within the groove to cool the PCR cocktail efficiently, with a temperature gradient of 15.8°C/mm, as it flowed from the denaturation zone to the renaturation zone. With temperature tolerance bands of ±2°C defined about the nominal temperatures, more than 72.5% of the microchannel length was located within the desired temperature bands. The residence time of the PCR cocktail in each temperature zone decreased and the transition times between zones increased at higher PCR cocktail flow velocities, leading to less time for the amplification reactions. Experiments demonstrated the performance of the CFPCR devices as a function of flow velocity, fragment length, and copy number. A 99 bp DNA fragment was successfully amplified at flow velocities from 1 mm/s to 3 mm/s, requiring from 8.16 minutes for 20 cycles (24.48 s/cycle) to 2.72 minutes for 20 cycles (8.16 s/cycle), respectively. Yield compared to the same amplification sequence performed using a bench top thermal cycler decreased nonlinearly from 73% (at 1 mm/s) to 13% (at 3 mm/s) with shorter residence time at the optimal temperatures for the reactions due to increased flow rate primarily responsible. Six different DNA fragments with lengths between 99 bp and 997 bp were successfully amplified at 1 mm/s. Repeatable, successful amplification of a 99 bp fragment was achieved with a minimum of 8000 copies of the DNA template. This is the first demonstration and characterization of continuous flow thermal reactors within the 8 mm × 8 mm footprint of a 96-well micro-titer plate and is the smallest continuous flow PCR to date.