Whether you want to sort the worms based on their life stages or synchronize the worms based on mutation, microfluidics technology can be of help to automate the process. Microfluidic chips have been developed to synchronize the worms and sort them in more efficient ways and affordably compared to the expensive sorting machines such as COPAS (Complex Object Parametric Analyzer and Sorter).
Sorting methods vary in their use of external power for sorting. Generally, active methods require an external source such as electricity for sorting while passive methods do not need any external source and operate based on the geometry of the microfluidic channel or hydrodynamics of the flow inside the chip.
Active methods for sorting the worms mostly involve employing electric fields. Worms at different stages express a different behaviour in the presence of an electrical field. Also, mutations in the worm can lead to different swimming behaviour thus sorting the mutated and unmutated worms.
In passive methods, a maze-like channel is designed with various gap sizes between the features which guide worms with a particular size to a particular outlet in the chip. These chips have been successful in separating adult worms from larvae at 200-300 worms/minute and 94% efficiency. Why not leave your worms inside the chips and automate the sorting process after all?
An advantage that C. elegans offers to the researchers is the synchronizability of the worms. It is a valuable feature in age-related and neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s. The standard method for synchronizing the worms off-chip includes bleaching the gravid worms to rupture the body and release the eggs followed by culturing the eggs on a new plate. This technique is time-consuming and labour-intensive. Microfluidic chips can efficiently and affordably extract eggs from a mixed population of eggs and worms at high-throughputs (4200 worms/minute). Find more details on microfluidic techniques for synchronizing C. elegans in the reference section at the bottom of the page.