Shedding Light on Life
April 19, 2008 8:02 AM   Subscribe

Light makes a comeback. “New technologies — more sophisticated imaging techniques, fluorescent molecules that act as beacons of light in the cell, and the computing power to gather and stitch together multiple images and create videos from high-powered microscopes — make it possible to harness one of light’s key advantages: gentleness. Unlike higher-resolution techniques, light microscopes can image biological structures without killing them or chemically fixing them. At Harvard, the resurgence of light microscopy is making it possible to see structures and events that have never before been seen in the context of living cells and organisms.” Also don't miss the video samples of “in vivo” imagining.
posted by Frankieist (12 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Fascinating. Thanks.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 8:21 AM on April 19, 2008

our ability to see the behavior of single proteins not just bunches of proteins these days is very powerful. i'm glad we have smart people making sure that these expensive resources aren't wasted on poorly designed questions.

very well-written for a general audience.
posted by wantwit at 9:26 AM on April 19, 2008

As a professional biologist, I have to say I have known far too many colleagues who are guilty of “in vivo imagining”. It's not something these people should be gloating about.
posted by nowonmai at 10:26 AM on April 19, 2008

I suppose it's the parochiality of a Harvard publication, but I find it bizarre that an article on this subject does not mention Stefan Hell and STED microscopy. Leica has just begun shipping a commercial implementation of this technology, and people in the field are very excited about it. Their also a bit worried about it. It's a million-dolllar microscope, so not everyone is going to have one...
posted by mr_roboto at 1:54 PM on April 19, 2008

Asked whether it is possible to develop optical microscopes capable of producing an image of a single molecule, Hell said: 'I think it is possible. I think in the future we will do this.'

Fascinating post and comments. We really are in a golden age of Biology.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:21 PM on April 19, 2008

Yeah, the technology is advancing pretty quickly right now. There are so many fluorescent proteins to choose from, there's even a "A guide to choosing fluorescent proteins" (pdf) in Nature Methods.

Of course, the in vivo imaging has really been advanced by the advent of 2-photon microscopy, which has significant advantages over your standard light or confocal microscopes.

One of the sample images came from von Andrian's lab (he's one of about 6 big names in the field). More of his videos can be found here.
posted by kisch mokusch at 3:57 PM on April 19, 2008

I agree with nowonmai - live imaging is old hat. Our lab does tons of live imaging, usually with fluorescence, watching synapses form and dissolve or trafficking of proteins in cultured neurons. A colleague of mine has some really cool movies of whole-neuron CamKII translocation upon local stimulation. Another has really cool movies of calcium flux in a "living" matrix of cultured neurons as a representation of dynamic information flow. I've got a bunch of movies showing inhibitory GABAergic activity in the same system.

Nikon has a bunch of movies up of mammalian cell line motility.

As for single molecules - it's almost routine to do it with "quantum dots" (they're not really quantum, just really small by today's standards).
posted by porpoise at 8:08 PM on April 19, 2008

Oh, right - in vivo I have colleagues going in and doing time-lapse imaging of tadpole neuronal development over many many days, using a confocal that was essentially built from scratch to shave several 100k from the $1M pricetag of a full commercial unit.
posted by porpoise at 8:35 PM on April 19, 2008

A really cool imaging study is Brainbow. I hesitate to call it in vivo since the imaging is done in slices, but there's some very pretty pictures and fancy florescence imaging in that study.
posted by sidr at 10:11 PM on April 19, 2008

Looks like my first comment in this thread was mis-interpreted. It wasn't any kind of judgement on the novelty or otherwise of live imaging techniques, just a quip making light of the typo in the last sentence of the original post! There's a fine line between subtle and obtuse and I'm usually on the wrong side of it.
I do agree with porpoise though that the article overhypes this latest (excellent) development in a field which has been seeing such rapid developments year on year for the past couple of decades. It's definitely a "Harvard! Harvard! We're the Best!" puff piece. That said, the movies of individual clathrin coated pits gobbling up their prey are pretty damn awesome.
The Brainbow stuff was posted here back in the day. I like to think of people searching MeFi tags for information on cured salmon and coming up with that as their only hit.
posted by nowonmai at 9:13 AM on April 20, 2008

Regarding improved uses of light with microscopes, I think the real fun is in laser-capture microdissection. Possibly an improvement over throwing your sample in a blender.
posted by zennie at 2:09 PM on April 20, 2008

I like to think of people searching MeFi tags for information on cured salmon and coming up with that as their only hit.

I had to look that up to get that! I suppose putting cre and lox in was a bit of overkill, but my philosophy is the more tags the better.
posted by kisch mokusch at 5:42 PM on April 20, 2008

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