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New devices to boost nematode research on neurons and drugs
Date:2/6/2008

A pair of new thin, transparent devices, constructed with soft lithography, should boost research in which nematodes are studied to explore brain-behavior connections and to screen new pharmaceuticals for potential treatment of parasitic infections in humans, report 10 scientists at three institutions.

The tools -- an artificial soil device and a waveform sampler device, both of which can be held easily in a human hand -- are detailed in a paper appearing online ahead of regular publication by the Journal of Neurophysiology.

The devices take advantage of a microfluidic fabrication technique, which allows for the presence of channels, chambers or ports, for gas permeability and transparency and for using fluids to deliver stimuli with precision. The major improvement over previous tools is that these new ones are agarose-free, using micron-scale channels and pillars that mimic real soil particles.

The newly reported devices provide a near natural environment for soil-dwelling roundworms (Caenorhabditis elegans, or C. elegans) that measure barely a millimeter in length. The nematodes move normally, but slightly compressed so that highly sensitive microscopes can be used to monitor individual fluorescent-injected neurons in real time during experiments.

"There is a commonality between these devices that is really going to help us understand how the nervous system works," said lead researcher Shawn Lockery, a professor of biology and member of the Institute of Neuroscience at the University of Oregon.

"The artificial soil device consists of a hexagonal array of microscopic pillars sandwiched between a glass cover slip and a bulk material from which the pillars protrude," Lockery said. "The worm wanders around in a one-centimeter square area as a river of mostly water flows through it. We can change the solution the nematode is exposed to in ways that are relevant to the research that is being conducted."

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Contact: Jim Barlow
jebarlow@uoregon.edu
541-346-3481
University of Oregon
Source:Eurekalert  

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