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Slices of Life
03 January 2013

Slices of Life

To see how genetic mutations affect the development and physiology of fruit flies (Drosophila), scientists can now use ultramicroscopy – a technique that produces ultra-detailed 3D images of a fly’s insides. First, water in the specimen is replaced with a solution that allows laser beams to better penetrate the tissue. Then an extremely thin, flat laser beam is shone horizontally through the fly layer by layer. As the laser passes through the body, it makes each thin slice of tissue fluoresce, and the light is captured in a microscopic snapshot each time. Finally, the images are digitally stitched together to create a 3D model. This cross-sectional plane (pictured) shows tissues inside a fly’s head, including its eye. Each scan takes only 30 minutes, so scientists can quickly image lots of specimens. The technique is also used to study brain cell networks in mice, and to investigate cancerous tumours in humans.

Written by Daniel Cossins

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BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences until Jul 2023, it is now run independently by a dedicated team of scientists and writers. The website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biology, and its influence on medicine. The ever-growing archive of more than 4000 research images documents over a decade of progress. Explore the collection and see what you discover. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.

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