Microfluidics is an emerging technology that was developed in the mid-'90s in order to miniaturize and automate fluid handling procedures, especially in the chemical and biology fields. The roots of the microfluidic technology can be tracked back in the late '80s where MicroElectroMechanical (MEMS) technology was established. Microfluidic chips—typically the size of a credit card—consist of microfluidic channels, microvalves, micropumps, micromixers, etc, that manipulate nanoliters of fluid with extreme accuracy. Those micron-size components are microfabricated using a combination of standard semiconductor manufacturing processes (e.g. photolithography) as well as more traditional approaches (e.g. molding). Microfluidic chips have traditionally been used to manipulate DNA, proteins and cells. MicroKosmos gives a different twist to microfluidic technology: MicroKosmos develops microfluidic chips that manipulate whole, small organisms, such as the nematode C. elegans and the fruitfly Drosophila melanogaster, in vivo. The difficulty of manipulating such small organisms (C. elegans is 20-40 microns in diameter), makes Microkosmos' chips a unique and powerful tool for facilitating/automating experimental protocols and accelerating breakthrough discoveries!
C. elegans is an ideal model organism for studies that require complexity and tractability since all uniquely-positioned 959 somatic cells of its transparent body are visible with a microscope. The complete reconstruction of the animal's neuronal wiring and the plethora of genetically encoded fluorescent indicators have spawned an increasing interest in implementing optical imaging approaches for neurophysiological and behavioral studies. Moreover C. elegans' powerful genetics, cheap cultivation in large numbers and short life cycle make it an ideal organism for aging-related and drug discovery purposes. The microfluidic community has been serving both these research fields by developing well-controllable, micro-environments that can host, manipulate and actively interact/stimulate with single animals or large populations.
Fruit-fly has been utilized as a model organism for over 100 years and there is an immense volume of genetic and developmental data accumulated so far that proves the remarkable conservation of molecular pathways from invertebrates to human. The fly's power also lies in the availability of sophisticated genetic tools for the analysis of tissues, organs and behavior and in the simple body plan and translucent cuticle that make it an attractive system for in vivo imaging, an important approach to study cellular mechanisms. To this end, microfluidic technology has already addressed an important challenge, the noninvasive immobilization and positioning of the animal for longitudinal studies, laser microsurgery, and high resolution imaging of cellular events upon neuronal injury.