The Metafluidics initiative encourages researchers to upload and share open-source microfluidics designs.
GitHub, BitBucket and SourceForge are among the many services that can host and manage open-source software—freely available code that anyone can benefit from and build on. A similar ethos of community-led sharing has evolved in the biological hardware and synthetic biology communities, and this has created a need for new services. Open-source hardware, like its analog in software, cannot be patented and allows users to create and use objects as well as modify and share designs.
To support these needs, Peter Carr, David Kong and colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology launched Metafluidics, a not-for-profit open repository that aims to lower the barriers to microfluidics research. The online resource hosts metadata and digital design files that contain all the information needed to build and operate microfluidic devices, including assembly specifications and software code.
Microfluidics, the manipulation of fluids at microscale, provides many advantages for research. Miniaturization is cost effective and scalable, and it can improve the handling of cells or biomolecules; the use of dedicated devices promotes uniformity and reproducibility; and device designs often benefit from modularity and automation.
Many molecular and synthetic biology protocols rely on microfluidics, yet only a small fraction of devices are ever used outside of the originating laboratory. Metafluidics should help to disseminate designs by making them more visible and searchable and by encouraging comprehensive documentation. Social features such as user comments and 'likes' help to drive discussion and feedback as well as highlight popular devices.
As an instructive example, Carr, Kong and colleagues describe how they used open-source principles to design, build and use the platform to share a programmable polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS)-based ring mixer and a tabletop controller for assembling genetic circuits on a chip.
Metafluidics is the first step in an effort to improve the sharing of microfluidics designs. The authors hope to partner with other synthetic biology organizations and cite the need for a standardized design file type as well as a better legal framework around licensing. They also encourage journals to adopt policies requiring digital designs at publication. A robust community-driven resource will certainly help to spread the use of open design principles.
Kong, D.S. et al. Open-source, community-driven microfluidics with Metafluidics. Nat. Biotechnol. 35, 523–529 (2017).