A new 3D microscope can image biological processes much faster than 2D microscopes, according to European researchers.
A team from an international research group, the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL), developed the new light-field microscopy system to improve humans’ ability to study biology in action.
“Many important biological processes occur in three dimensions and on millisecond timescales,” said researcher Lars Hufnagel in a news release. “Capturing these fast processes is a big challenge in biology. And showing them not only in 2D but in 3D is, next to the needed high resolution, the second main aspect of modern microscopy.”
Previously developed microscopes, mostly based on light-sheet approaches, have also attempted to image fast biological processes but have only achieved much slower speeds than the new technique, according to the researchers. As such, they were too slow to see dynamic processes within hearts and neuronal cells.
“Our new method allows us to study processes both in 3D and on timescales of 200 images per second,” said fellow researcher Robert Prevedel.
“On top of that, it delivers up to 10 times better, namely truly isotropic, resolution than classic light field microscopy,” Hufnagel added.
To demonstrate the capabilities of the new technique, the team studied the beating heart and blood flow in medaka, a well-understood model organism also known as Japanese rice fish. Blood cells move quickly — up to one millimeter per second — which was a challenge for any existing microscope. The images delivered by this test showed for the first time how individual blood cells move through the two heart chambers in real time.
“This opens up completely new possibilities,” said co-author Joachim Wittbrodt from the Centre for Organismal Studies at Heidelberg University in Germany. “In showing how genetic backgrounds or mutations have an effect on the dynamics of heartbeats, the new technology can be used to research heart defects.”
EMBL is an intergovernmental research organization made up of several European countries, plus Argentina, Australia and Israel. The 3D microscope research team consisted of physicists, engineers, computer scientists and biologists. Their next task may be to use the microscope to study the activity and dynamics of neuronal cell populations in medaka.
“Future camera developments can further increase the imaging speed,” Prevedel said. “This would make our new microscope technique an attractive tool to study the dynamics within small neuronal networks on millisecond time scales in 3D.”