New microscope allows biologists to see living cells in 3D


Microscopy has significantly advanced that microscopes no longer just magnify objects that are not easily seen with the naked eye. A new microscope now even gives scientists the ability to watch livings cells move in the body in 3D, which could allow them see how an embryo develops or a cancer spreads.

The microscope was designed by an awardee of the 2014 Nobel Prize for Chemistry, Eric Betzig, and colleagues and it involves the use of a technique known as lattice light-sheet microscopy.

Betzig's earlier works have given scientists the capability to study the structure of cell with greater clarity but the new device can capture three-dimensional images of cells as they change and move.

The microscope that had Betzig receive a Nobel offers high resolution imagery, but it does not offer the best solution for observing cells that move rapidly or are very fragile, this is because high resolution three-dimensional imaging of cells could sacrifice imaging speed and subject the cells to light-induced damage.

The limitations in light microscope eventually led Betzig to use ultrathin sheets of light, which do not cause damage to the cell and allow researchers to follow it very fast in 3D.

In their research article published in the journal Science on Oct. 24, Betzig, from the Janelia Research Campus of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Ashburn, Virginia, and colleagues, described how the revolutionary microscope works.

"We developed a new microscope using ultrathin light sheets derived from two-dimensional (2D) optical lattices," Betzig and colleagues wrote. "These are scanned plane-by-plane through the specimen to generate a 3D image. The thinness of the sheet leads to high axial resolution and negligible photobleaching and background outside of the focal plane, while its simultaneous illumination of the entire field of view permits imaging at hundreds of planes per second even at extremely low peak excitation intensities."

The technology behind the microscope offers a number potential uses such that the device can be used for in vivo three-dimensional imaging of dynamic processes in embryos and cells that could lead to a better understanding how cancer spreads and birth defects happen.

"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 said. "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."

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