APR 25, 2018 6:48 AM PDT

3D Movies of Cellular Activity in Unprecedented Detail

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

Advanced microscopy is getting better all the time, as stunning new movies from the team of physicist Eric Betzig, a group leader at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Research Campus, reveal. Two techniques, adaptive optics and lattice light sheet microscopy have been merged to create a powerful technology that shows cells in action, in 3D and in stunning detail. The work has been reported in Science; you can see many examples of their work in the videos.

To be studied in the laboratory, cells have traditionally been grown in single layers, an utterly different environment from the one they normally live in - the layered dimensions of the human body. Then scientists typically stain and visualize these cells in a fixed state on glass slides.

“This raises the nagging doubt that we are not seeing cells in their native state, happily ensconced in the organism in which they evolved,” said Betzig.

Microscopes also require intense light to illuminate structures on the nanoscale. “This also contributes to our fear that we are not seeing cells in their natural, unstressed form,” he explained. “It’s often said that seeing is believing, but when it comes to cell biology, I think the more appropriate question is, ‘When can we believe what we see?’” 

Betzig utilized lattice light sheet microscopy, which can quickly shine a sheet of light through cells as a series of 2D images are acquired. A 3D movie of subcellular activity is then created by compiling the images.  The research team combined that with adaptive optics, a technology that allows astronomers to see objects with more clarity through the distorting atmosphere of the Earth. Images free of distortion can thus be created when viewing the illuminated sheet. The researchers were also able to remove aberrations and determine where corrections need to be made.

The result of their work is awesome images of subcellular structures, as seen in the movies.

Adaptive optics were necessary for that level of detail, Betzig said. “It’s just too damn fuzzy.” He considers adaptive optics to be one of the microscopy’s most important areas. The lattice light sheet was a great place to apply it. It is an expensive tool, however, and adaptive optics isn't yet popular; it simply isn’t worth it. That may now be changing.

First, it has to be made available for practical use. “Technical demonstrations and publications don’t amount to a hill of beans. The only metric by which a microscope should be judged is how many people use it, and the significance of what they discover with it,” Betzig admitted.

The instrument is still quite large, unfortunately, and needs about ten feet of space on a table. “It’s a bit of a Frankenstein’s monster right now,” said Betzig. His team is working on a smaller version, and they hope to release plans so that others can build their own. There is potential that the tool will become used by many others in the future.

“If you really want to understand the cell in vivo, and image it with the quality possible in vitro, this is the price of admission,” he said.

 

Sources: HHMI, Science

About the Author
  • Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on over 30 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 70 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
You May Also Like
SEP 14, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
Learning More About How Cells Use Phase Separation
SEP 14, 2020
Learning More About How Cells Use Phase Separation
It was once thought that cellular machines called organelles, which are structures bound by membranes, directed most of ...
SEP 21, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
The Hormones We Have at Birth Are Linked to Disease Throughout Life
SEP 21, 2020
The Hormones We Have at Birth Are Linked to Disease Throughout Life
New work may help explain why some autoimmune or immune-related diseases are more common in women, who are more likely t ...
OCT 24, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
Cord Blood Samples Reveal More About the Genetics of Autism
OCT 24, 2020
Cord Blood Samples Reveal More About the Genetics of Autism
The activity of genes in our genome is controlled by many factors, one of which are chemical tags or structural changes ...
NOV 01, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
There's More to Neutrophil Function Than We Knew
NOV 01, 2020
There's More to Neutrophil Function Than We Knew
Neutrophils are an abundant type of white blood cell that circulate in the blood that can provide a general defense aga ...
NOV 12, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
Liposomes Potentially Safer Alternative to Viruses for CRISPR Delivery
NOV 12, 2020
Liposomes Potentially Safer Alternative to Viruses for CRISPR Delivery
To repair disease-causing errors in the genome, gene editing reagents like those used in CRISPR-Cas9 first have to reach ...
NOV 15, 2020
Microbiology
Monitoring a Virus in Real-Time as it Infects a Cell
NOV 15, 2020
Monitoring a Virus in Real-Time as it Infects a Cell
Hubrecht Institute researchers observe a virus as it invades a cell and competes with the host for control of the host c ...
Loading Comments...