Microfluidics-enabled phenotyping of a whole population of C. elegans worms over their embryonic and post-embryonic development at single-organism resolution.

Maria Cristina Letizia, Matteo Cornaglia, Raphaël Trouillon, Vincenzo Sorrentino, Laurent Mouchiroud, Maroun Bou Sleiman, Johan Auwerx, Martin Gijs

Microsystems & Nanoengineering

The organism Caenorhabditis elegans is a performant model system for studying human biological processes and diseases, but until now all phenome data are produced as population-averaged read-outs. Monitoring of individual responses to drug treatments would however be more informative. Here, a new strategy to track different phenotypic traits of individual C. elegans nematodes throughout their full life-cycle-i.e., embryonic and post-embryonic development, until adulthood onset, differently from life-span-is presented. In an automated fashion, single worms were synchronized, isolated, and cultured from egg to adulthood in a microfluidic device, where their identity was preserved during their whole development. Several phenotypes were monitored and quantified for each animal, resulting in high-content phenome data. Specifically, the method was validated by analyzing the response of C. elegans to doxycycline, an antibiotic fairly well-known to prolong the development and activate mitochondrial stress-response pathways in different species. Interestingly, the obtained extensive single-worm phenome not only confirmed the dramatic doxycycline effect on the worm developmental delay, but more importantly revealed subtle yet severe treatment-dependent phenotypes that are representative of minority subgroups and would have otherwise stayed hidden in an averaged dataset. Such heterogeneous response started during the embryonic development, which makes essential having a dedicated chip that allows including this early developmental stage in the drug assay. Our approach would therefore allow elucidating pharmaceutical or therapeutic responses that so far were still being overlooked.