Following the recently reported trapping of biological particles by finely focused laser beams, we report on the automated micromanipulation of cells and other microscopic particles by purely optical means as well as on a newly observed interaction between particles in the trapping beam. A simple instrument is described which allows single cells to be positioned with high accuracy, transported over several millimeters, and automatically sorted on the basis of their optical properties. These operations are performed inside a small enclosed chamber without mechanical contact or significant fluid flow. Potential applications of this technique in experimental cell biology are discussed.
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