We investigated growth kinetics of microalgae, Chlorella vulgaris, in immobilized arrays of nanoliter-scale microfluidic drops. These static drop arrays enabled simultaneous monitoring of growth of single as well as multiple cells encapsulated in individual droplets. To monitor the growth, individual drop volumes were kept nearly intact for more than a month by controlling the permeation of water in and out of the microfluidic device. The kinetic growth parameters were quantified by counting the increase in the number of cells in each drop over time. In addition to determining the kinetic parameters, the cell-size distribution of the microalgae was correlated with different stages of the growth. The single-cell growth kinetics of C. vulgaris showed significant heterogeneity. The specific growth rate ranged from 0.55 to 1.52 day−1 for different single cells grown in the same microfluidic device. In comparison, the specific growth rate in bulk-scale experiment was 1.12 day−1. It was found that the average cell size changes significantly at different stages of the cell growth. The mean cell-size increased from 5.99 ± 1.08 to 7.33 ± 1.3 µm from exponential to stationary growth phase. In particular, when multiple cells are grown in individual drops, we find that in the stationary growth phase, the cell size increases with the age of cell suggesting enhanced accumulation of fatty acids in older cells. Biotechnol. Bioeng. 2012; 109: 2987–2996. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
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