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New microscope gives clear view inside cells

Fluorescence technique dials back damage by splitting beams of light

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2:00pm, October 23, 2014
two cells touching each other

SPYING ON CELLS  An immune cell bearing a fluorescent orange tag reaches out and touches another cell (tagged in blue). Scientists can watch the action using a new microscope that’s not as damaging to cells as previous scopes. The scale bar represents 4 micrometers.

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A new microscope sweeps lattices of light over samples to give scientists sneak peeks inside living cells without hurting them.

Scientists have previously devised ways to glimpse the hidden machinery of cells, but spying the tiny nuts and bolts in action is tricky. Shining light on cells for too long can bleach their color and even kill them.

So 2014 chemistry Nobel Prize–winner Eric Betzig of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Research Campus in Ashburn, Va., and colleagues tweaked a technique to see cells’ innards (SN Online: 10/8/14). Instead of shooting a focused beam of light at a developing embryo or a virus infecting a cell, the scientists spread the beam out into a grid.

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