MIT invents 'lab on a chip' to automate gene studies

Aug 20, 2007
MIT invents 'lab on a chip' to automate gene studies
This photo shows an immobilized C. elegans worm inside the new microfluidic chip designed at MIT. The green spots are neurons. Image courtesy / Mehmet Fatih Yanik, MIT

Genetic studies on whole animals can now be done dramatically faster using a new microfluidic chip 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.

Yanik and his colleagues described their device in the advance online issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences the week of Aug. 20. "Lab on a chip" technologies are being developed to sort and image individual cells, but this is the first device that can be used to study whole animals.

C. elegans is often used in studies designed to identify which genes control which phenotypes, or traits. Researchers traditionally do this by treating them with a mutagen, or by using RNA interference, in which expression of a certain gene is blocked with a small strand of RNA. Such studies normally take months or years to complete. The new chip, which sorts and images worms in milliseconds, dramatically speeds up that process.

"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.

Yanik and his colleagues plan to use the chips to continue their research on neural degeneration and regeneration in C. elegans. Yanik and his collaborators had previously demonstrated a high precision femtosecond laser technology to cut axons in living animals and then observe which genes are involved in axon regeneration.

The lead author of the paper is Chris Rohde, a graduate student in electrical engineering and computer science (EECS). Other authors of the paper are Matthew Angel, a graduate student in EECS, Fei Zeng, a postdoctoral fellow in the Research Laboratory of Electronics, and Ricardo Gonzalez-Rubio, a graduate student in biological engineering.

Source: MIT

Explore further: Free the seed: OSSI nurtures growing plants without patent barriers

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Live-animal nerve regeneration study gets a boost

Apr 11, 2008

An MIT team has improved upon its landmark technology reported last year in which the researchers used a fingernail-sized lab on a chip to image, perform surgery on and sort tiny worms to study nerve regeneration.

Recommended for you

Plants with dormant seeds give rise to more species

Apr 18, 2014

Seeds that sprout as soon as they're planted may be good news for a garden. But wild plants need to be more careful. In the wild, a plant whose seeds sprouted at the first warm spell or rainy day would risk disaster. More ...

Researchers successfully clone adult human stem cells

Apr 18, 2014

(Phys.org) —An international team of researchers, led by Robert Lanza, of Advanced Cell Technology, has announced that they have performed the first successful cloning of adult human skin cells into stem ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Biologists help solve fungi mysteries

(Phys.org) —A new genetic analysis revealing the previously unknown biodiversity and distribution of thousands of fungi in North America might also reveal a previously underappreciated contributor to climate ...

Researchers successfully clone adult human stem cells

(Phys.org) —An international team of researchers, led by Robert Lanza, of Advanced Cell Technology, has announced that they have performed the first successful cloning of adult human skin cells into stem ...

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.