Under an ordinary microscope the fine structure of a cell is nothing but a blur. Tendrils and tubes that define its shape and steer its movements are too delicate to be discerned. ‘Super-resolution’ microscopes bring these structures into focus. They combine thousands of frames capturing individual molecules, in a single image. To peer deeper into this kidney cell, scientists used a technique called stochastic optical reconstruction microscopy (STORM). Objects of interest – in this case a protein called actin involved in cell movement – are tagged with fluorescent markers, which light up under laser light. This composite image is formed from 230,000 frames and is detailed enough to illuminate individual actin fibres, which are less than a millionth of a centimetre thick. Such high resolution can reveal the effects of a disease or a genetic fault in the finest detail, which could better inform decisions about treatment.
Written by Hayley Birch
BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences the website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biomedicine. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.