Sub-nanowatt resolution direct calorimetry for probing real-time metabolic activity of individual C. elegans worms

Nat Commun. 2020 Jun 12;11(1):2983. doi: 10.1038/s41467-020-16690-y.


Calorimetry has been widely used in metabolic studies, but direct measurements from individual small biological model organisms such as C. elegans or isolated single cells have been limited by poor sensitivity of existing techniques and difficulties in resolving very small heat outputs. Here, by careful thermal engineering, we developed a robust, highly sensitive and bio-compatible calorimetric platform that features a resolution of ~270 pW-more than a 500-fold improvement over the most sensitive calorimeter previously used for measuring the metabolic heat output of C. elegans. Using this calorimeter, we demonstrate time-resolved metabolic measurements of single C. elegans worms from larval to adult stages. Further, we show that the metabolic output is significantly lower in long-lived C. elegans daf-2 mutants. These demonstrations clearly highlight the broad potential of this tool for studying the role of metabolism in disease, development and aging of small model organisms and single cells.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Basal Metabolism / genetics
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / cytology
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / genetics
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / metabolism*
  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins / genetics
  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins / metabolism
  • Calorimetry / instrumentation
  • Calorimetry / methods*
  • Energy Metabolism / genetics
  • Humans
  • Larva / cytology
  • Larva / genetics
  • Larva / metabolism
  • Longevity / genetics
  • Models, Animal
  • Mutation
  • Receptor, Insulin / genetics
  • Receptor, Insulin / metabolism
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Single-Cell Analysis / instrumentation
  • Single-Cell Analysis / methods*
  • Temperature*
  • Thermal Conductivity


  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins
  • DAF-2 protein, C elegans
  • Receptor, Insulin