An apparatus and method are disclosed for in vitro transformation of living cells. The apparatus, which is formed as a microelectromechanical device by surface micromachining, can be used to temporarily disrupt the cell walls or membrane of host cells one at a time so that a particular substance (e.g. a molecular tag, nucleic acid, bacteria, virus etc.) can be introduced into the cell. Disruption of the integrity of the host cells (i.e. poration) can be performed mechanically or electrically, or by both while the host cells are contained within a flow channel. Mechanical poration is possible using a moveable member which has a pointed or serrated edge and which is driven by an electrostatic actuator to abrade, impact or penetrate the host cell. Electroporation is produced by generating a relatively high electric field across the host cell when the host cell is located in the flow channel between a pair of electrodes having a voltage applied therebetween.