In biology, vesicles contain a liquid surrounded by a lipid membrane. The characteristics of that membrane – like its stiffness – can change over time in ways that indicate other changes. For example, vesicles carrying HIV become stiffer as they grow more infectious. In the past, to observe these properties scientists used atomic force microscopes, which require removing the vesicles from the liquid in which they naturally reside. That’s problematic because it potentially changes how the vesicle responds.
Now researchers have developed a new method: a microfluidic system that subjects vesicles to electric fields in order to deform them and measures their properties without removing them from their carrier fluid. This provides a faster and more reliable method of testing a vesicle’s deformation, capable of testing hundreds of samples at a time. (Image credit: Wikimedia; research credit: A. Morshed et al.; submitted by Eric S.)