Eric Betzig is on a roll. Two weeks after sharing the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his role in creating a super high-resolution light microscope that can see within cells, he has unveiled another method that can make sharp three-dimensional movies, following the actions of molecules moving within cells or embryos as their cells begin to divide. He and his colleagues describe the technique in the October 24 issue of Science, released today.

You can see two movies made with the technique here. Above, a single cancer cell starts to divide, and the movie tracks changes in chromosomes by following fluorescent tags affixed to the structures. Below, cell junctions in a fruit fly embryo are illuminated at 840 different points in time, separated by 8-second intervals.

The method is called a lattice light sheet microscope. Betzig, a a researcher at the Janelia Farm Research Campus of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Ashburn, Virginia, says it is a sharper version of a technique for making microscopic movies that he first developed in 2011. The lattice is a single sheet of light, made up of many thin beams. The sheet illuminates segments of a cell, and then a computer stacks the segments on top of one another to recreate three-dimensional structures. Repeated several times, this results in animated movies. And the method does not hurt the cell: The light is divided among many beams, reducing the energy hitting the cell at any single point, so the microscope can watch for a long time, making movies without causing toxic effects.


Top credit: Betzig Lab, HHMI/Janelia Research Campus, Mimori-Kiyosue Lab, RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology; 10/24/14 issue of the journal Science.

Bottom credit: Betzig Lab, HHMI/Janelia Research Campus, Kiehart Lab, Duke University; 10/24/14 issue of the journal Science.