Physicochemical Properties Predict Retention of Antibiotics in Water-in-Oil Droplets

Water-in-oil droplet microfluidics promises capacity for high-throughput single-cell antimicrobial susceptibility assays and investigation of drug resistance mechanisms. Every droplet must serve as an isolated environment with a controlled antibiotic concentration in such assays. While technologies for generation, incubation, screening, and sorting droplets mature, predictable retention of active molecules inside droplets remains a major outstanding challenge. Here, we analyzed 36 descriptors of the antibiotic molecules against experimental results on the cross-talk of antibiotics in droplets. We show that partition coefficient and fractional polar surface area are the key physicochemical properties that predict antibiotic retention. We verified the prediction by monitoring growth inhibition by antibiotic-loaded neighboring droplets. Our experiments also demonstrate that transfer of antibiotics between droplets is concentration- and distance-dependent. Our findings immediately apply to designing droplet antibiotic assays and give deeper insight into the retention of small molecules in water-in-oil emulsions.
Anal. Chem. 2023, 95, 2, 1574–1581 Publication Date:January 4, 2023