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Highlights in Chemical Technology

Chemical technology news from across RSC Publishing.

On-chip suction stops worm wiggling

30 April 2008

Scientists in the US have developed a microfluidic method for immobilising worms in fractions of a second, allowing them to be used in high throughput studies of disease.1

Caenorhabditis elegans immobilised in the microfluidic channel

Caenorhabditis elegans is a tiny, semi-transparent worm. Its properties make it useful for studying a wide variety of diseases and biological processes, including Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease and aging. But to be able to study the worm, scientists have to stop it wriggling.

Mehmet Fatih Yanik and colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, US, put the worm inside a microfluidic channel. They lowered the pressure inside the channel, causing the worm to be sucked up against the side. A flexible membrane then sealed the worm to the side, restricting its movement completely.

Previously, scientists used anaesthesia or cooling to immobilise worms but this affected their biological functioning. Using the new method, Yanik's group can immobilise worms for longer than with previous methods, allowing more detailed studies to be performed, and without any negative effects.

"Microfluidics has emerged as a powerful tool for basic biology studies in whole-animal models, facilitating experiments that would be impossible by conventional means"
- Aaron Wheeler, University of Toronto, Canada
'We improved on our previous landmark study2 so that we can immobilise awake animals on the chip for several minutes, instead of a few seconds,' says Yanik. 'This allows us to take three-dimensional movies of single cells in the animals and represents a significant leap in high throughput studies of multi-cellular organisms.'

Aaron Wheeler, an expert in microfluidics at the University of Toronto, Canada, states that this work shows that 'microfluidics has emerged as a powerful tool for basic biology studies in whole-animal models, facilitating experiments that would be impossible by conventional means.'

Yanik believes that this new technology could dramatically accelerate large-scale studies on disease models. 'We are currently using large-scale genetic and drug libraries to discover factors that affect neural regeneration in vivo using femtosecond laser nanosurgery,' he says.

Ziva Whitelock


1. F. Zeng, C. R. Rohde and M. F. Yanik, Lab Chip, 2008, 8, 653 (DOI:10.1039/b804808h)

2. C. B. Rohde, F. Zeng, R. Gonzalez-Rubio, M. Angel and M. F. Yanik, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 2007, 104, 13891 (DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0706513104)

Link to journal article

Sub-cellular precision on-chip small-animal immobilization, multi-photon imaging and femtosecond-laser manipulation
Fei Zeng, Christopher B. Rohde and Mehmet Fatih Yanik, Lab Chip, 2008, 8, 653
DOI: 10.1039/b804808h

Also of interest

The worm that turned

Canadian scientists have taught nematode worms to solve mazes.

A microfabricated array of clamps for immobilizing and imaging C. elegans
S. Elizabeth Hulme, Sergey S. Shevkoplyas, Javier Apfeld, Walter Fontana and George M. Whitesides, Lab Chip, 2007, 7, 1515
DOI: 10.1039/b707861g