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What a Relief

Technique for revealing the minute structures within cells

27 May 2019

What a Relief

Nothing in life is completely flat. Even our thinnest cells are speckled with contours and bumps – tiny 3D structures that might be crucial to their health, but difficult to spot. Here, a combination of super resolution microscopy and mathematics reveals the structure of a mammalian cell’s cytoskeleton – the mesh of protein ‘bones’ that keep cell membranes propped up. Each is artificially coloured by its vertical height – with lighter shades of blue and yellow being furthest from the cell’s floor – over a distance two million times smaller than the average tent. The techniques use information about how patterns of light are usually ‘seen’ by the microscope to remove some of the blurriness common when picturing such small structures – revealing more about how cells move and adhere among tissues in the body, but also how they might be targeted with medical treatments.

Written by John Ankers

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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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