Noncontact manipulation of nano/micromaterials presents a great challenge in fields ranging from biotechnology to nanotechnology. In this study we developed a new strategy for the manipulation of molecules and cells based on diffusiophoresis driven by a concentration gradient of a polymer solute. By using laser focusing in a microfluidic device, we created a sharp concentration gradient of poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) in a solution of this polymer. Because diffusiophoresis essentially depends on solute gradients alone, PEG solute contrast resulted in trapping of DNA and eukaryotic cells with little material dependence. Furthermore, quantitative analysis revealed that the motility of migrating cells was enhanced with the PEG concentration, consistent with a theoretical model of boosted cell migration. Our results support that a solute contrast of polymer can exert an interfacial force gradient that physically propels objects and may have application for the manipulation of soft materials.
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