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C. Elegans: Dead or Alive

Molecular geneticists at MGH have designed an automated system that images and analyzes multiple bacterial samples at a time so they can more quickly test antibiotics.

By Linda Keslar // The MGH Research Issue 2011
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c. elegans

Abdul Hakkim

In this digital image, orange stain fluorescence, which enters dead cells easily, distinguishes an eyelash-size C. elegans worm succumbing to the bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a pathogen that commonly causes pneumonia and other infections in hospitalized and immunocompromised patients. There are 15 infected worms in each of 384 tiny wells used to test chemical compounds to see which might slow down or stop the bacterial onslaught. Frederick Ausubel, a molecular geneticist at MGH, designed this automated system to improve on one in which researchers had to use a microscope to examine each well to calculate the ratio of living worms to dead ones in measuring the relative effectiveness of potential antibiotics. In the new system, images of the wells are fed into a computer programmed to measure the area of orange in each well. Ausubel has tested 40,000 compounds so far and has found 48 with antibiotic properties.

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