The complexity of biology can befuddle even the most sophisticated light microscopes. Biological samples bend light in unpredictable ways, returning difficult-to-interpret information to the microscope and distorting the resulting image.
The approach, a form of adaptive optics, works in tissues that do not scatter light, making it well suited to imaging the transparent bodies of zebrafish and the roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans, important model organisms in biological research. Janelia group leader Eric Betzig says his team developed the new technology by combining adaptive optics strategies that astronomers and ophthalmologists use to cancel out similar distortions in their images.
In a report published online on April 13, 2014, in the journal Nature Methods, Betzig, postdoctoral fellow Kai Wang, and their colleagues show how the technique brings into focus the fine, branching structures and subcellular organelles of nerve cells deep in the living brain of a zebrafish. These structures remain blurry and indistinct under the same microscope without adaptive optics. "The results are pretty eye-popping," Betzig says. "This really takes the application of adaptive optics to microscopy to a completely different level."
"Our technique is really robust, and you don't need anything special to apply our technology. [In the future] it could be a very convenient add-on component to commercially available microscopes," says Wang, a postdoctoral researcher in Betzig's lab.
Via José Gonçalves