Scientists comprising of a team of Indian origin from the McMaster University has come up a with a new way to drive and direct microscopic worms like C. elegans nematodes through a narrow channel with the use of a mild electric field.
The study may be used for creating micro-screening devices for drug discovery and other such applications.
Bhagwati Gupta, assistant professor of biology, said: "This is the first time that worms have been stimulated to move in a micro-channel device in a very precise and directed way.
"It will allow researchers to study in real time how a proposed drug affects neurons and muscles that control motion of a live specimen."
Researchers showed the worms' movement forward and in reverse inside a microchannel as the organisms were guided by the direction of the electric field (electrotaxis).
Ravi Selvaganapathy, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, said: "The electrotaxis of the worms has the potential to automate what is currently a slow, manual process for drug screening on worms.
"The system is fairly easy and inexpensive to scale up to conduct rapid screening of tens of thousands of chemicals in worms to identify drug candidates in a cost-effective manner. Such discovery could accelerate clinical trials in people by allowing scientists to focus only on relevant drugs and would use limited resources more efficiently."
An advantage of the new procedure is that a worm's natural motion is not disturbed and the process has no harmful effect microbe.
Since it was discovered that a worm's response depended on its age and neuronal development, a large numbers of worms can be handled.
The findings of the study will also enable researchers to find how neurons respond to electricity. New devices to handle worms may also be developed.
The study has appeared in the January 21, 2010 issue of Lab on a Chip.