Super Microscope can track every cell of a growing embryo

Photo: Matt StaleyTwo teams of researchers led by Philipp Keller, from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, in Maryland, USA and Lars Hufnagel, from the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, Germany, have independently designed and built a new generation of microscopes, capable of capturing three-dimensional images of all the cells in a whole living embryo, all the way throughout its development.

The new microscope can track down, and register every bit of action of a fertilized egg as it performs thousands of cell divisions and complex rearrangements between cells in order to become a functional organism. With this new technology you end up with a movie that combines millions of images captured over a specific time frame.

Until now efforts to track down what happens on a living embryo use still images, and according to Philipp Keller, "This approach is incompatible with the highly dynamic process of development," Keller says. "Snapshots just don't capture the essence of it." With this novel approach you can literally watch the embryo grow, live. The non-invasive light microscope captures multiple images simultaneously from four different angles. The findings are described in the June 3, 2012 issue of Nature Methods.


According to Philipp Keller, this novel technology will serve to perform quantitative analyses to better understand developmental processes, with much higher precision than conventional imaging methods. "This is not just a quantitative improvement [over previous technologies]," Keller says. "It is the difference between being able to quantitatively measure this process and not even being able to follow the cells."


"In a single movie--a compilation of a million images captured over about 20 hours--viewers can see biological structures begin to emerge as a simple cluster of cells morphs into an elongated body with tens of thousands of densely packed cells. The movie concludes when the embryo begins to twitch, driven by contractions of its newly formed muscles--moments before the hatching of a fruit fly larva just half a millimeter long."

For more information and some cool videos go to: http://www.hhmi.org/news/keller20120603.html
For the original publication go to: http://www.nature.com/nmeth/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nmeth.2062.html


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