Light fantastic

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Researchers are constantly inventing new techniques to push the limits of light microscopy. Here are four spectacular examples.

Green lacewing larva

Portrait of a biter

“I found this common green lacewing larva (image above) biting my hand after a walk outside”, says the photographer. After slicing it through the middle, he stained it with fluorescence-tagged phalloidin, a death cap toxin that binds to actin, the protein responsible for muscle contraction (shown in blue).


The cell and its skeleton

A COS-7 cell derived from the kidney of an African green monkey shows the intricacies of the actin skeleton. This network of protein fibres forms the cytoskeleton inside a cell, contributing to the cell’s movement.

Cell skeleton

Technique: dSTORM image acquired over 20 minutes, comprising 30,000 frames and showing 11 million locations.
Scientist: Markus Sauer, University of Würzburg (Germany).


A fly is born

A three-hour-old fly embryo is made of 6,000 cells. The colour tags each cell nucleus and shows its velocity (cyan to orange: 0-0.8 m/min). The picture is from a video recording the development of the embryo, which usually remains alive in the microscope.

A fly embryo

Technique: Digital scanned laser light-sheet fluorescence microscopy (DSLM) coupled with incoherent structured illumination microscopy (SIM). The 3D picture is created by scanning a light sheet that selectively activates fluorescent molecules that belong to a specific plane.
Scientist: Philipp J. Keller, European Molecular Biology Laboratory, Heidelberg, and Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Janelia Farm (Virginia).


12 fat spheres

These soap-like bubbles of fat (liposomes) were extracted from the surface of human lung alveoli, whose opening and closing they assist during breathing. The colours show the heterogeneity of the arrangement of their compounds (fats and proteins).

Fat liposomes

Technique: Two-photon microscopy on a laser scanning confocal microscope.
Scientist: Jorge Bernardino de la Serna, University of Southern Denmark, Odense.

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More on super-resolution microscopy: Going beyond the limits of light and Fragment of cognition


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