WOWing the Crowds

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A team of scientists at the Weizmann Institute of Science and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem has developed a method that could speed up the process of identifying novel protein molecules hundreds of times over.

Instead of plates containing rows of tiny wells, the new method - developed by Drs. Dan Tawfik and Amir Aharoni of the Institute's Biological Chemistry Department and Prof. Shlomo Magdassi of the Hebrew University's Institute of Chemistry, with support from the Israel Ministry of Science and Technology - relies on microscopic droplets of water suspended inside oil droplets. The method, which uses an emulsion dubbed WOW (water-oil-water), takes a lead from living cells, which employ a fatty membrane to keep their inside and outside environments separate. Using the new system, millions of tests can be performed at once.

The method involves adding a fluorescent marker that lights up in color when activated by the right protein and sorting through the droplets for those containing the marked proteins and their coding genes. Automated devices for sorting cells can handle many thousands of droplets per second. "Searches that now take a year to complete could be done in a matter of days," says Tawfik.  

Dr. Dan Tawfik's research is supported by the Y. Leon Benoziyo Institute for Molecular Medicine; the Dolfi and Lola Ebner Center for Biomedical Research; the Estelle Funk Foundation; the Dr. Ernst Nathan Fund for Biomedical Research; the Henry S. and Anne Reich Family Foundation; the Charles and M.R. Shapiro Foundation Endowed Biomedical Research Fund; the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Fund for the Molecular Genetics of Cancer; the Eugene and Delores Zemsky Charitable Foundation; and Mr. and Mrs. Mordechai Segal, Israel. Dr. Tawfik is the incumbent of the Elaine Blond Career Development Chair.