An automated microfluidic platform for C. elegans embryo arraying, phenotyping, and long-term live imaging
Studies of the real-time dynamics of embryonic development require a gentle embryo handling method, the possibility of long-term live imaging during the complete embryogenesis, as well as of parallelization providing a population's statistics, while keeping single embryo resolution. We describe an automated approach that fully accomplishes these requirements for embryos of Caenorhabditis elegans, one of the most employed model organisms in biomedical research. We developed a microfluidic platform which makes use of pure passive hydrodynamics to run on-chip worm cultures, from which we obtain synchronized embryo populations, and to immobilize these embryos in incubator microarrays for long-term high-resolution optical imaging. We successfully employ our platform to investigate morphogenesis and mitochondrial biogenesis during the full embryonic development and elucidate the role of the mitochondrial unfolded protein response (UPR(mt)) within C. elegans embryogenesis. Our method can be generally used for protein expression and developmental studies at the embryonic level, but can also provide clues to understand the aging process and age-related diseases in particular.