Nav: Home

'Flamingo:' High-powered microscopy coming to a scientist near you

June 21, 2018

Modern microscopy has given scientists a front-row seat to living, breathing biology in all its technicolor glory. But access to the best technologies can be spotty.

Jan Huisken, a medical engineering investigator at the Morgridge Institute for Research and co-founder of light sheet microscopy, has a new project meant to bridge the technology gap.

His Morgridge team has developed a portable, shareable light sheet microscope -- an engineering feat that shrinks a tabletop-sized technology down to the weight and dimensions of a suitcase liberally packed for a week's vacation. The project can be mailed to a lab anywhere in the world, configured remotely by Morgridge engineers, and run one to three months of experiments.

The microscope then either begins its mail-order journey to the next lab, or back to the Morgridge lab if a tune-up is needed -- all at no cost to users. The first focus will be on sharing with the University of Wisconsin-Madison community.

"If we succeed, this project will certainly have a huge impact in the field of fluorescence microscopy and significantly change the way we collaborate," says Huisken.

The technology targets two essential challenges.

Labs lucky enough to afford a commercial microscope can keep their entire experiments in-house. But as biologists, not engineers, customizing from one project to the next is difficult and the expensive tool may drift into obsolescence, says Huisken.

The budget-challenged may need to take their project to the nearest shared microscopy resource. But biology doesn't travel well: Delicate samples may get altered or ruined along the way, and experiments may fail in the unfamiliar environment, he says.

The team presented the technology -- nicknamed "Flamingo" for its one-legged stand and vertical profile -- today (June 20, 2018) at the International Zebrafish Conference meeting at UW-Madison. It's the perfect starting point for this device, since the zebrafish research community widely wants to use light sheet microscopy.

What is light sheet? Huisken's microscopes illuminate samples from the sides with non-invasive "sheets" of light, giving scientists the ability to image samples over hours and days from every angle. This helps generate a tremendous amount of data quickly and gives researchers a 3D view of development in an almost completely unaltered state.

Zebrafish researchers use the technology because it can build striking movies of embryo, limb and organ development. But it's also being adopted by other model organisms important to research, such as fruitflies and planaria, and for imaging early plant root growth.

Susi Power, a Huisken lab member on the Flamingo development team, says the lab has been seeing for years the challenges biologists face in getting access to good imaging. One of the added benefits of this project will reflect back to the Huisken lab as a kind of research crowd-sourcing. In exchange for using the technology, the lab helps expand the light-sheet user community and gets continual feedback on how to improve its core technology.

"It does something magical for a biologist to have a technology like this entirely to themselves, where they can set it up and say, 'that's my Flamingo,'" Power says. "I think there will be a huge reward to the science."

The prototype device is built and ready to use. Ongoing work includes designing remote access to help calibrate the device from Morgridge, and building software that will give users real-time desktop and mobile access to the data.

Power says the microscope is the opening project in a new Huisken lab initiative called "involv3d," which is intended to improve collaboration and communication between different research disciplines. The Huisken lab has active members in developmental biology, medicine, physics, botany and others, and they want involv3d to bridge these fields and "help scientists profit from other scientists."

Liz Haynes, a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of UW-Madison geneticist Mary Halloran, says Flamingo will help address some challenges in the Halloran lab. They needed a technology that could track gene editing changes made in zebrafish embryos, and traditional approaches were onerous.

She's looking forward to being one of Flamingo's first customers.

"I'm also excited because it is a beautiful scope and it seems really smartly designed," Haynes says. "It's a joy to look at. And, of course, the images you can get from (light sheet) are breathtaking."
-end-


Morgridge Institute for Research

Related Microscope Articles:

Microscope can scan tumors during surgery and examine cancer biopsies in 3-D
A new UW microscope could provide accurate real-time results during cancer-removal surgeries, potentially eliminating the 20 to 40 percent of women who have to undergo multiple lumpectomy surgeries because cancerous breast tissue is missed the first time around.
Next-gen steel under the microscope
Next-generation steel and metal alloys are a step closer to reality, thanks to an international research project involving a University of Queensland scientist.
Engineers shrink microscope to dime-sized device
Researchers at The University of Texas at Dallas have created an atomic force microscope on a chip, dramatically shrinking the size -- and, hopefully, the price tag -- of a high-tech device commonly used to characterize material properties.
Protein research: The computer as microscope
Using a combination of infrared spectroscopy and computer simulation, researchers at Ruhr-Universität Bochum have gained new insights into the workings of protein switches.
New microscope chemically identifies micron-sized particles
A team from MIT Lincoln Labs have developed a microscope that can chemically identify individual micron-sized particles.
The self-driving microscope
Researchers develop a combination of software and hardware for adaptive live imaging of large living organisms.
Smart microscope adapts to changes in live specimens
HHMI/Janelia Research Campus scientists have developed the first adaptive light-sheet microscope -- a smart microscope that continuously analyzes and adapts to dynamic changes in a specimen and thereby improves spatial resolution.
Nanowires as sensors in new type of atomic force microscope
A new type of atomic force microscope (AFM) uses nanowires as tiny sensors.
Smartphone microscope creates interactive tool for microbiology
An easily assembled smartphone microscope provides new ways of interacting with and learning about common microbes.
Microscope imaging system integrates virtual reality technology
CaptiView is a microscope image injection system that overlays critical virtual reality imaging directly onto the brain when viewed through the eyepiece during surgery.

Related Microscope Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Changing The World
What does it take to change the world for the better? This hour, TED speakers explore ideas on activism—what motivates it, why it matters, and how each of us can make a difference. Guests include civil rights activist Ruby Sales, labor leader and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta, author Jeremy Heimans, "craftivist" Sarah Corbett, and designer and futurist Angela Oguntala.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#521 The Curious Life of Krill
Krill may be one of the most abundant forms of life on our planet... but it turns out we don't know that much about them. For a create that underpins a massive ocean ecosystem and lives in our oceans in massive numbers, they're surprisingly difficult to study. We sit down and shine some light on these underappreciated crustaceans with Stephen Nicol, Adjunct Professor at the University of Tasmania, Scientific Advisor to the Association of Responsible Krill Harvesting Companies, and author of the book "The Curious Life of Krill: A Conservation Story from the Bottom of the World".