Dramatic Advances In Super-Resolution Imaging

Credit: Betzig Lab, HHMI/Janelia Research Campus

Advances in imaging and microscopy are enabling us to see an unparalleled level of detail inside living cells - exposing their intricate inner workings to us real-time for the first time. 

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2014 went to the development of super-resolved fluorescence microscopy, and one of awarded scientists has been pursuing better spatial resolution since. 

 "This will bring super-resolution to live-cell imaging for real."

Structured illumination microscopy (SIM) is a popular method in which a sample is illuminated with various patterns of light. It's accurate, but it's not suitable for living cells and activates fluorescent markers, used to monitor certain molecules in cells, all at once.

 

A still image from a video showing the interaction of filamentous actin Credit: Betzig Lab, HHMI/Janelia Research Campus

 

"The problem with this approach is that you first turn on all the molecules, then you immediately turn off almost all the molecules. The molecules you've turned off don't contribute anything to the image, but you've just fried them twice. You're stressing the molecules, and it takes a lot of time, which you don't have because the cell is moving."

 

 

 

The research team realised that it was actually better not to activate all these markers at once, instead activating smaller subsets each time. This gave them better detail and increased the speed - enabling them to monitor ongoing, living processes.

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