The high-efficiency separation and extraction of short fragments of cell-free DNA (cfDNA) remain challenging due to their low abundance and short lengths. This study presents a method for separating short cfDNA fragments, with lengths ranging from about 100 to 200 base pairs, from liquid human plasma samples into separable and extractable bands as solid agarose gel slabs. To achieve this, a novel millimeter-scale fluidic device is used for sample handling, transient isotachophoresis, and extraction. The device features open-to-atmosphere liquid chambers that define and manually actuated (i.e., movable) agarose-made gate valve structures. The agarose gates then define discrete zones for buffers, sample injection, DNA pre-concentration via isotachophoresis, size-based gel separation, and DNA-band extraction. As a demonstration of its efficacy, the device is applied to the enrichment and purification of M. tuberculosis genomic DNA fragments spiked in human plasma samples. This purified cfDNA is analyzed using the quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) of the IS6110 repetitive sequence in the M. tuberculosis genome. The data from this study demonstrates that high sensitivity can be achieved in cfDNA detection, as shown by the comparison with a typical solid-phase extraction method and buffer spiked with cfDNA. Evidence is presented that suggests plasma peptides generated by treatment of the sample with proteinase K acts as endogenous spacer molecules, which improve the resolution and purification of DNA relative to the marker dye and other contaminants that decrease the signal level in qPCR.
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