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Scientists video that shows living cells interacting in 3D detail


Existing microscope technology means that we can only observe cells in an isolated environment, often restricted to a simple glass slide. 

But now, thanks to a breakthrough discovery, scientists have found a way to study cellular processes in their natural habitat: deep inside living organisms. 

In a study published Friday in Science, researchers describe how they developed a new kind of microscope that uses sophisticated ‘guide star’ technology.

The result is a series of mesmerizing high-resolution 3D videos that document biological processes in never-before-seen detail.

Scroll down for videos  

Researchers from Harvard Medical School, Boston Children’s Hospital and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute collaborated for the study. 

‘For the first time, we are seeing life itself at all levels inside whole, living organisms,’ said Tomas Kirchhausen, the study’s co-author. 

‘…It can be used to study almost any problem in a biological system or organism I can think of,’ he added.    

They scanned the cells of a cousin of the minnow, the zebrafish, observing immune cells ‘cruising’ through the fish’s inner ear to pick up blue sugar particles. 

Additional footage captures ‘cancer cells crawling through blood cells and spinal nerve cells wiring up into circuits,’ Harvard explained

‘It’s like ‘Star Trek.’ It’s the age of exploration again,’ said Gokul Upadhyayula, one of the co-authors of the study. 

The scientists observed a variety of biological processes as they happened in real time. Pictured are cancer cells that were placed inside a zebrafish, the cousin of the minnow

The scientists observed a variety of biological processes as they happened in real time. Pictured are cancer cells that were placed inside a zebrafish, the cousin of the minnow

Using the novel lattice light-sheet microscope, scientists were able to observe biological processes in subcellular detail. Typically, scientists can't see these processes because cells are blocked by tissues. Pictured is the eye of the zebrafish from a subcellular point of view

Using the novel lattice light-sheet microscope, scientists were able to observe biological processes in subcellular detail. Typically, scientists can’t see these processes because cells are blocked by tissues. Pictured is the eye of the zebrafish from a subcellular point of view

‘We don’t even know what questions to ask yet because we’ve never even seen some of these biologies at this level of detail’. 

Zebrafish have translucent skin that makes it easy to capture microscopic images of their organs and tissues in vivo, the researchers noted. 

However, in almost all cases, it’s very challenging to observe cells as they exist inside organisms.  

That’s because cells are delicate, light-sensitive objects that should be ‘captured in their native multicellular environments’ in order to observe the most detail.  

What’s more, cells are surrounded by tissues and other biological structures that make it nearly impossible to view them.

To solve this issue, the scientists developed a novel technology using lattice light-sheet microscopy. 

Pictured is what it looks like when cells are eating. Scientists were able to see that because they applied adaptive optics to a novel microscopic technology, which was able to scramble distorted images  into something that can be observed by the human eye

Pictured is what it looks like when cells are eating. Scientists were able to see that because they applied adaptive optics to a novel microscopic technology, which was able to scramble distorted images into something that can be observed by the human eye

Pictured, the scientists scanned the cells of a cousin of the minnow, the zebrafish, observing immune cells 'cruising' through the fish's inner ear to pick up blue sugar particles

Pictured, the scientists scanned the cells of a cousin of the minnow, the zebrafish, observing immune cells ‘cruising’ through the fish’s inner ear to pick up blue sugar particles

Lattice-light sheet microscopy ‘rapidly and repeatedly’ sweeps an ultrathin sheet of light through an object while capturing multiple images. 

The 2D images are then combined to create 3D images. 

Scientists applied another technology, called adaptive optics, which has roots that trace back to the stars.  

Adaptive optics measures distorted images collected by the microscope to the image of a fluorescent ‘guide star’.

It then unscrambles the images as the light sheet passes through tissues and other structures.

HOW ARE ADAPTIVE OPTICS USED IN SPACE?

Adaptive optics were originally designed to observe distant galaxies and stars. 

The technology relies on guide stars to help telescopes to ‘see’ through the blurring caused by Earth’s atmosphere. 

The guide star is an artificial light source, in this case a two-photon laser, that corrects atmospheric distortion. 

Scientists used a novel imaging technique, which relies on adaptive optics, to see cells in stunning detail. Pictured, they observed cells undergoing mitosis in rapid speeds

Scientists used a novel imaging technique, which relies on adaptive optics, to see cells in stunning detail. Pictured, they observed cells undergoing mitosis in rapid speeds

Using multiple beams aims to improve image quality over a larger field of view.

With multiple laser beams rather than just one, the turbulence of the atmosphere can be mapped in greater detail. 

Researchers from Harvard and other institutions have figured out how to use adaptive optics in lattice light-sheet microscopy using a two-photon laser. 

This allows them to view cellular processes in never-before-seen stunning detail. 

 

The guide star is an artificial light source, in this case a two-photon laser, that corrects atmospheric distortion.  

Without adaptive optics, the footage would have been ‘just too damn fuzzy’, said Eric Betzig, who led the study.

Adaptive optics were originally designed to observe distant galaxies and stars, but the scientists adjusted it so that it would work with lattice light-sheet microscopes.  

As a result, it allows scientists to probe deeper and see biological processes in stunning detail. 

Scientists were able to observe inner cell migration in the inner ear of a zebrafish (pictured). They also observed subcellular processes like mitosis, which occurred at rapid speeds

Scientists were able to observe inner cell migration in the inner ear of a zebrafish (pictured). They also observed subcellular processes like mitosis, which occurred at rapid speeds

The microscope can even capture ‘subcellular details like the dynamics of miniscule bubbles known as vesicles,’ Harvard noted.  

‘This is the miracle of being able to see what we have never been able to see before,’ Kirchhausen said. ‘It’s simply incredible’. 

Now, the scientists say the next challenge will be to make the microscope affordable. 

The device, which currently takes up an entire 10-foot-long table, will also be made smaller so that it can fit on a standard sized desk.      





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