You're welcome, biology: Physicists produce revealing images of cell organization and behavior

Posted By News On February 17, 2013 - 5:58pm
You're welcome, biology: Physicists produce revealing images of cell organization and behavior

BOSTON, MASS.—When difficult biological questions are tackled by creative experts in physics, what can result?

Images of great beauty, accessible for anyone to appreciate, that also offer rich information on fundamental life processes, and rewarding new paths for analysis and insight.

This leading edge of interdisciplinary collaboration in microscopy will be explored in "Innovations in Imaging: Seeing is Believing," Saturday, February 16, 1:30-4:30 PM at the AAAS Annual Meeting in Boston.

The panel will feature three physicists and three biologists, several of whom are affiliated with the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) in Woods Hole, Mass., a leading center for innovation in biophysics and biological imaging (see list below).

"We are beginning to understand the basis for cell organization at unprecedented spatial and temporal resolution through the creative application of fundamental physics to microscopy," states session organizer Amy S. Gladfelter of Dartmouth College and MBL. "This symposium will help motivate the next phase of interdisciplinary approaches to advance the visualization of life, from the scale of a single molecule to the whole organism."

Cellular structures are seen by Bessel beam plane illumination microscopy. Clockwise from upper left: membrane ruffles in a monkey kidney cell; chromosomes (green) and golgi (magenta) in a dividing pig kidney cell; mitochondria in a living pig kidney cell; and microtubules (green) and nuclei (magenta) in a pair of human osteosarcoma cells.

(Photo Credit: Eric Betzig/HHMI)

The data collected in biological images, Gladfelter notes, not only bring insight to basic cell processes, but can also be used for medical purposes (to diagnose a metastasizing cancer or microbial infection, for example, or to screen chemical libraries for new pharmaceuticals).

"These images also bring us to a beautiful world beyond the grasp of our normal senses," Gladfelter states. "In this way microscopes give us beauty and [biological or medical] application, often in the same image."

The capacity of microscopes to reach beyond the senses is well appreciated by MBL Senior Scientist Rudolf Oldenbourg, who will address "New Frontiers in Polarized Light Microscopy for Live Cell Imaging" in this session:

"Polarization is a basic property of light that is often overlooked, because the human eye is not sensitive to polarization. Therefore, we don't have an intuitive understanding of it and optical phenomena that are based on polarization either elude us or we find them difficult to comprehend," Oldenbourg states.

This is a fluorescence image of a living cell (MDCK) expressing septin molecules linked to green fluorescent protein (GFP). The image was recorded with the Fluorescence LC-PolScope and shows fluorescent septin fibers in color, indicating that the fluorescence is polarized and the septin molecules are aligned in the fibers.

(Photo Credit: Rudolf Oldenbourg/MBL)

"Like most scientific instruments, the polarized light microscope translates polarization effects so they can be perceived by our senses, in this case by our eyes, and makes them amenable to quantitative and analytical analysis. At the MBL, we are developing polarized light imaging techniques … that clearly reveal the otherwise invisible dynamics of single molecules and molecular assemblies in organelles, cells, and tissues."

Other talks in the session will include:

"Navigating the Dynamic Cell" Jennifer Lippincott-Swartz (National Institutes of Heath/MBL Physiology Course)

"Imaging Three-Dimensional Dynamics in Cells and Embryos" Eric Betzig (Howard Hughes Medical Institute/MBL Physiology Course and MBL Neurobiology Course)

"Structured Illumination and the Analysis of Single Molecules in Cells" Rainer Heintzmann (King's College, London)

"Imaging Single Cells in the Breast Tumor Microenvironment" John Condeelis (Albert Einstein College of Medicine)

"Single Molecule Imaging in Live Cells" Amy S. Gladfelter (Dartmouth College/MBL Whitman Investigator)

These are spermatocytes from the crane fly, Nephrotoma suturalis. This image was generated using a Nikon Microphot SA equipped with a liquid crystal universal compensator, a so-called LC-PolScope (Cambridge Research and Instrumentation, Woburn MA). With the LC-PolScope, birefringence of meiotic spindles is revealed with striking contrast, regardless of specimen orientation, and thus, the spindle fibers, actually bundles of microtubules, are clearly imaged as bright structures on the non-birefringent (or weakly birefringent) background cytoplasm.

(Photo Credit: Rudolf Oldenbourg/MBL)

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