Developmental studies in multicellular model organisms such as Caernohabditis elegans rely extensively on the ability to cultivate and image animals repeatedly at the cell or subcellular level. However, standard high-resolution imaging techniques require the use of anaesthetics for immobilization, and may have undesirable side effects on development. Thus such techniques are not ideal in allowing the same animals to grow and be imaged throughout development to observe specific developmental processes. In this paper, we present a microfluidic system designed to overcome these difficulties. The system allows for long-term culture of C. elegans starting at L1 larval stage and repeated high-resolution imaging at physiological temperatures without using anaesthetics. We use a commercially available biocompatible polymer, Pluronic F127 for immobilization; this polymer is capable of a reversible thermo-sensitive sol–gel transition within ∼2 °C, which is well-controlled in the microfluidic chip. The gel phase is sufficient to immobilize the animals. While animals are not imaged, they are cultured in individual chambers in media containing nutrients required for development. We show here that this method facilitates time-lapse studies of single animals at high-resolution and lends itself to live imaging experiments on developmental processes and dynamic events.
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