Imaging cells: New method enables clear, precise look inside: Researchers can now see the fine structure and chemical composition of a human cell with unmatched clarity and precision

Researchers at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology developed a new method to ‘see’ the fine structure and chemical composition of a human cell with unmatched clarity and precision.

It’s why Jaws swam out of sight for more than an hour and hints at the glamour of giftwrap. In movie theaters, living rooms, and even labs, the thrill of the unseen can be counted on to keep us guessing. But when it comes to the hidden chemical world of cells, scientists need no longer wonder.

Inspired by this same thrill, researchers at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology developed an innovative way to ‘see’ the fine structure and chemical composition of a human cell with unmatched clarity and precision. Their technique, which appeared in PNAS earlier this week, takes a creative — and counterintuitive — approach to signal detection.

“Biology is one of the most exciting sciences of our time because there has always been a divide between what we can see and what we cannot see,” said Rohit Bhargava, a professor of bioengineering at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign who led the study.

As the smallest functional units in our bodies, cells have long commanded the attention of researchers interested in determining what they’re made of and where each element resides. Together, the “what” and the “where” form an all-purpose cellular blueprint that can be used to study biology, chemistry, materials, and more.

Before this study, obtaining a high-resolution copy of that blueprint ranked among the impossible.

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