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Microscope Captures 3D Views Of Cells Moving Within Living Organisms

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Researchers have developed a new microscope that offers a clearer view of the cellular world.

The technology gives scientists an opportunity to watch in unprecedented detail how spinal nerve cells wire up, immune cells move, cancer cells crawl, and a lot more.

Challenges Of Viewing Living Cells In Real Time

Viewing living cells moving inside organisms in real time is challenging because the cells are surrounded by biological structures that scramble the light, blurring the important details. Powerful light that can penetrate these biological structures to yield a clearer view of the cells, however, can damage the tissues.

To address these challenges, Eric Betzig, from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Janelia Research Campus, and colleagues used adaptive optics and lattice light sheet microscopy to develop a microscope that can capture 3D videos and images of cells moving inside living things.

Adaptive Optics And Lattice Light Sheet Microscopy

Lattice light sheet microscopy uses rapid and repeated sweeps of the ultrathin sheet of light to capture a series of 2D images to build 3D movies of living cells as they carry out their functions sans the bleaching and damage linked to traditionally focused beams of light.

To unscramble the light sheet that passes through the biological structures, the researchers used adaptive optics technology, which is also used by astronomers to get a clear view of celestial objects through a turbulent atmosphere.

Betzig and colleagues used a two-photon laser to create an adaptive optics system capable of maintaining the thin illumination of lattice light sheet as it penetrates a living organism. It generates non-distorted images of their target of interest.

"Clear delineation of cell membranes allowed us to computationally isolate and individually study any desired cell within the crowded multicellular environment of the intact organism," the researchers wrote in their study, which was published in the journal Science on April 20,

"AO-LLSM takes high-resolution live-cell imaging of subcellular processes from the confines of the coverslip to the more physiologically relevant 3D environment within whole transparent organisms."

Clearer View Of Cellular Behavior

Exceptional imaging of subcellular processes, which include the movements of immune cells and cancer cells, as well as the restructuring of organelles during mitosis can offer researchers better insights of cells and their behavior.

"Every time we've done an experiment with this microscope, we've observed something novel-and generated new ideas and hypotheses to test," said study co-author Tomas Kirchhausen, from Harvard Medical School. "It can be used to study almost any problem in a biological system or organism I can think of."

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