New microscope offers 3-D cellular images that are fast, detailed and low toxicity

Image captured by a new 3-D microscope--Courtesy of Janelia

A new microscope is transforming the kinds of questions that scientists can study. It offers more detailed and 3-D images of molecules, cells and embryos for a longer time than previously possible. The imaging platform comes out of the lab of Nobel Prize winner Eric Betzig at Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Janelia Farm Research Campus located in Ashburn, VA.

Betzig is one of three scientists to win the 2014 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his previous work in high-resolution microscopy.

He and his team are offering open-source instructions to scientists on how to assemble their own similar microscope. In addition, the technology has been licensed already by German microscopy and imaging company, Zeiss.

Prior to this, detailed 3-D microscopy was available, but it didn't have the same speed, resolution and limited impact on the specimen as the new technology. The team published a paper in the latest issue of the journal Science. It detailed the use of the microscope to examine 20 different biological processes spanning four orders of magnitude of space and time. For each, the researchers highlighted the detail seen that might offer clues to previously unknown biological mechanisms.

"Normally when people do single-molecule studies, they have to do them in thin, flat cells, because the out-of-focus light kills you if it's thick," Betzig said in a statement. This technology uses an ultrathin, latticed light sheet that eliminates that problem. The microscope allows the examination of large, multicellular specimens with rapid changes over time, such as the growth and retraction of cytoskeletal components in dividing cells, and watching the molecular dynamics of development process unfold over several hours.

In the past year, 30 teams of biologists have come to the site to explore the application of the new microscope to their own work. There are two at Janelia's Advanced Imaging Center, one of which can be used by visiting scientists without charge. In addition, the team has deployed two more of these microscopes at Harvard University and at the University of California, San Francisco.

"It takes a huge amount of effort to move from a successful high-tech prototype to broader adoption of an imaging technology," Betzig said. "Ultimately, commercialization is the crucial last step to ensuring that these technologies can have broad impact in the research community."

- here is the release and the paper
- and here is coverage from Bloomberg and The Washington Post