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Abstract

Microfluidics and novel lab-on-a-chip applications have the potential to boost biotechnological research in ways that are not possible using traditional methods. Although microfluidic tools were increasingly used for different applications within biotechnology in recent years, a systematic and routine use in academic and industrial labs is still not established. For many years, absent innovative, ground-breaking and “out-of-the-box” applications have been made responsible for the missing drive to integrate microfluidic technologies into fundamental and applied biotechnological research. In this review, we highlight microfluidics’ offers and compare them to the most important demands of the biotechnologists. Furthermore, a detailed analysis in the state-of-the-art use of microfluidics within biotechnology was conducted exemplarily for four emerging biotechnological fields that can substantially benefit from the application of microfluidic systems, namely the phenotypic screening of cells, the analysis of microbial population heterogeneity, organ-on-a-chip approaches and the characterisation of synthetic co-cultures. The analysis resulted in a discussion of potential “gaps” that can be responsible for the rare integration of microfluidics into biotechnological studies. Our analysis revealed six major gaps, concerning the lack of interdisciplinary communication, mutual knowledge and motivation, methodological compatibility, technological readiness and missing commercialisation, which need to be bridged in the future. We conclude that connecting microfluidics and biotechnology is not an impossible challenge and made seven suggestions to bridge the gaps between those disciplines. This lays the foundation for routine integration of microfluidic systems into biotechnology research procedures.

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