Roundworms are immobilized to study cell migration and animal development unhindered
C. elegans, a type of roundworm, is considered an important model organism for the study of aging, diseases, and other biological processes due to its genetic similarities to humans. In these long-term studies, worms must be immobilized to monitor individual cell movement and growth. The current gold standard to accomplish this involves administering tranquilizing drugs or confining the worm into a tight space. However, both these methods have drastic effects on the worms’ natural biological functions, preventing researchers from studying physiological processes. Recently, microfluidic methods have been developed to confine worms into micrometer-sized channels. Unfortunately, existing methods commonly exert high stress on the worm, which alters their response to stimuli or fails to completely immobilize the worm over time which prevents high-resolution imaging.
Dr. Simon Berger from our group and collaborators at the University of Zürich have solved this problem with an easy-to-fabricate microfluidic device that consists of controllable valves to introduce and trap individual worms. The device traps the worm without affecting biological functions, such as egg laying rate, while keeping it still for imaging over time. This is useful for continuously imaging individual cells throughout their lifetime in the worm. Furthermore, Simon adapted the geometry of the chip to trap C. elegans larvae and track key points in their growth. With this microfluidic platform, he was able to conduct extended studies on cell migration and programmed cell death in living worms for the first time.
With this simple device, C. elegans immobilization is no longer a barrier to the study and imaging of worms with natural function. This will allow other scientists to study new biological processes in this model organism and gain more insight on animal development.
Written by Harrison Khoo.
Read the full paper here.