New Microscope Collects Dynamic Images of the Molecules that Animate Life

Oct 26, 2014

Credit: Betzig Lab, HHMI/Janelia Research Campus, Mimori-Kiyosue Lab, RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology

By Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Over the last decade, powerful new microscopes have dramatically sharpened biologists’ focus on the molecules that animate and propel life. Now, a new imaging platform developed by Eric Betzig and colleagues at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Research Campus offers another leap forward for light microscopy. The new technology collects high-resolution images rapidly and minimizes damage to cells, meaning it can image the three-dimensional activity of molecules, cells, and embryos in fine detail over longer periods than was previously possible.

The developers of the new lattice light sheet microscope have teamed with cell and molecular biologists to produce stunning videos of biological processes across a range of sizes and time scales, from the movements of individual proteins to the development of entire animal embryos. The scientists, including postdoctoral researchers Bi-Chang Chen (now at the Research Center for Applied Sciences in Taiwan),Wesley Legant, and Kai Wang, described their new technology and its applications in the October 24, 2014, issue of the journal Science. Scientists who wish to use the lattice light sheet microscope for their own research can submit a proposal to Janelia’s Advanced Imaging Center at

Betzig, one of three scientists sharing the 2014 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, has developed a suite of new imaging technologies over the last 10 years. The techniques have improved biologists’ ability to visually track the movements of cells’ tiniest structures – but there were always trade-offs. Imaging cells at high resolution in three dimensions usually meant sacrificing imaging speed, as well as subjecting cells to significant light-induced toxicity.

“What happens is you end up designing the questions you ask around the tools that are available,” Legant says. With the lattice light sheet, the Betzig team can now optimize their imaging technology for the questions that biologists want to answer.

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