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Powerful New Microscope Shows Cellular Life in New Light

Oct 24, 2014 05:30 PM EDT
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HeLa cell shown using lattice light sheet microscope
A powerful new microscope developed by a team of more than 30 scientists is showing cellular life in a new light, recording the activity of living cells, molecules, and embryos in 3D and in real-time, a new study says. [Pictured: A single HeLa cell in metaphase.]

(Photo : Betzig Lab, HHMI/Janelia Research Campus, Mimori-Kiyosue Lab, RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology)

A powerful new microscope developed by a team of more than 30 scientists is showing cellular life in a new light, recording the activity of living cells, molecules, and embryos in 3D and in real-time, a new study says.

Using a technique called lattice light-sheet microscopy, which involves scanning a cell with ultra-thin sheets of light, researchers collected high-resolution images without damaging cells.

Lead developer Eric Betzig and colleagues at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute describe their new technology in the journal Science.

The new microscope, called the Bessel beam plane illumination microscope, "illuminates samples with a virtual sheet of light, created when a beam of non-diffracting light called a Bessel beam sweeps across the imaging field," researchers said in a statement.

This creates images at a resolution of up to 230 nanometers and can capture 1,000 frames per second.

Betzig's earlier work, for which he won the 2014 Nobel Prize for Chemistry, involved another microscope that let researchers observe a single molecule - 100 times smaller than what can be seen with a regular microscope. However, in order to produce these high resolution images, it sacrificed imaging speed and subjected the cells to light-induced damage.

These limitations led Betzig and his team to use ultrathin sheets of light, which sacrifice neither speed nor cause cell damage. The technology behind the microscope offers a number potential uses, including the ability to see in 3D how an embryo develops or a cancer spreads.

"We now have, with this, a tool that can relate these molecular signals that then basically provide the orchestration for how cells divide and form new organisms," Betzig told Voice of America. "So, we've taken it essentially from that singular molecule level and connected it all the way up to multi-cellular systems and how they develop."

This up-close-and-personal imagery can be seen in the video below of a HeLa cell dividing.


[Credit: Betzig Lab, HHMI/Janelia Research Campus; Mimori-Kiyosue Lab, RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology; published in Science]

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