New microscope gives researchers 3D 'omniscience'

3D is all the rage at the box office these days, so why not in the lab, too? A new microscope invented by scientists at Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Janelia Farm Research Campus will let researchers use a thin sheet of light--similar to that used in supermarket bar-code scanners--to peer inside single living cells, revealing the three-dimensional shapes of cellular landmarks in unprecedented detail, according to a release. And the folks at Howard Hughes are so excited about this research tool, they are claiming it brings them nothing less than omniscience.

"In looking at living systems, you want to be God," research leader Eric Betzig told Popular Science. "You want to have this omniscient power and be able to look at all time scales--not just single cells sitting on a microscope cover slip, but observe what's happening in a single molecule in a single cell that is inside your heart right now. That's the dream. You want to have this (omniscience) in a way that the organism is completely unaware and unaffected by that observation."

And this unawareness by the organism being observed is key. The new technique, called Bessel beam plane illumination microscopy, does all this without harming the cells being observed. It is a noninvasive way of a creating a series of high-speed images that can be put together into a movie.

- check out the story and video in Popular Science
- read the release from Howard Hughes
- and the abstract in Nature Methods