The mechanical properties of cells and tissues play a well-known role in physiology and disease. The model organism Caenorhabditis elegans exhibits mechanical properties that are still poorly understood, but are thought to be dominated by its collagen-rich outer cuticle. To our knowledge, we use a novel microfluidic technique to reveal that the worm responds linearly to low applied hydrostatic stress, exhibiting a volumetric compression with a bulk modulus, κ = 140 ± 20 kPa; applying negative pressures leads to volumetric expansion of the worm, with a similar bulk modulus. Surprisingly, however, we find that a variety of collagen mutants and pharmacological perturbations targeting the cuticle do not impact the bulk modulus. Moreover, the worm exhibits dramatic stiffening at higher stresses - behavior that is also independent of the cuticle. The stress-strain curves for all conditions can be scaled onto a master equation, suggesting that C. elegans exhibits a universal elastic response dominated by the mechanics of pressurized internal organs.
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