Automated microfluidic screening and patterned illumination for investigations in Caenorhabditis elegans neuroscience
Stirman, Jeffrey Neil
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The field of neuroscience has recently seen optogenetics emerge as a highly utilized and powerful method of non-invasive neural activation and inhibition. This thesis seeks to enhance the optogenetic toolbox through the design, construction, and evaluation of a number of hardware and software modules for research in Caenorhabditis elegans neuroscience. In the first aim, we combine optogenetics, microfluidics, and automated image processing, to create a system capable of high-throughput analysis of synaptic function. In the second aim, we develop a multi-modal illumination system for the manipulation of optogenetic reagents. The system is capable of multi-spectral illumination in definable patterns, with the ability to dynamically alter the intensity, color, and shape of the illumination. The illumination system is controlled by a set of software programs introduced in aim three, and is demonstrated through a set of experiments in aim four where we selectively activate and inhibit specific neural nodes expressing optogenetic reagents in freely moving C. elegans. With the ability to target specific nodes in a freely moving animal, we can correlate specific neural states to behaviors allowing for the dissection of neural circuits. Taken together, the developed technologies for optogenetic researchers will allow for experimentation with previously unattainable speed, precision and flexibility.