August 22, 2007
Microfluidic Chip Manipulates Lab Worms

MIT researchers have developed a microfluidic chip that automates research on the worm Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans).

Genetic studies on whole animals can now be done dramatically faster using a new microchip developed by engineers at MIT.

The new "lab on a chip" can automatically treat, sort and image small animals like the 1-millimeter C. elegans worm, accelerating research and eliminating human error, said Mehmet Yanik, MIT assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science.

The advance rate in biotechnology is going to accelerate because the technologies developed by the computer industry to work at increasingly smaller scales are getting reused to develop chips that can do biological research. The "lab on a chip" approach is going to allow an automation and acceleration of biological experiments that will speed up research by orders of magnitude.

Each worm can get routed through the chip and manipulated in different ways to do a very large variety of experiemnts in an automated fashion..

"Normally you would treat the animals with the chemicals, look at them under the microscope, one at a time, and then transfer them," Yanik said. "With this chip, we can completely automate that process."

The tiny worms are flowed inside the chip, immobilized by suction and imaged with a high resolution microscope. Once the phenotype is identified, the animals are routed to the appropriate section of the chip for further screening.

The worms can be treated with mutagen, RNAi or drugs before they enter the chip, or they can be treated directly on the chip, using a new, efficient delivery system that loads chemicals from the wells of a microplate into the chip.

"Our technique allows you to transfer the animals into the chip and treat each one with a different gene silencer or a different drug," Yanik said.

Chips can be mass produced at low cost. Chips that can manipulate whole worms can probably manipulate cells or small groups of cells. So this chip has application beyond C. elegans.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2007 August 22 12:08 AM  Biotech Advance Rates


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