Microfluidic Chip Screens Small, Living Organisms

Oct. 23, 2008
Genetic pioneers at Georgia Institute of Technology have developed a “lab-on-a-chip“ that positions, images, and then determines the features of small organisms and sorts them according to specific characteristics.

For example, the chip can identify caenorhabditis elegans, a worm commonly used in biological studies. The chip is also shaped so that it fits in any standard microscope, including epifluorescence, stereo, multiphoton and confocal, so lab technicians can monitor or record it in action. In one experiment, the chip sorted free-moving organisms based on intensity, location, and timing of the appearance of a fluorescent protein. It successfully sorted them at a rate of 900/hr.

Georgia Institute of Technology gatech.edu

Using the device is relatively simple. The chip loads individual organisms, arranges each into a prearranged position, a step that reduces processing time, then immobilizes them by cooling them to 4°C. This stops motion and allows repeated imaging of the same regions and unlike commonly used anesthetic drugs, it has no long-term effects. Then a high-resolution on-chip microscope takes multidimensional images.

“This is the first automated device that combines high-resolution imaging with sorting,” says Hang Lu, a Georgia Tech professor. “In the future, it will let us perform genetic screening a lot faster than traditional methods and speed discovery of new genes.”

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