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New technique enables detailed scanning inside cells

28 February 2021

An Ion Life

Cell biologists often use fluorescent dyes to light up life within cells. But, like astronauts watching twinkling cites from space, distinguishing details is a challenge. Here a new technique uses multiplexed ion beam imaging to take detailed scans inside a single human cell, mapping out the contours of nanoscale structures while computer algorithms assemble them into 3D. With the cell’s DNA highlighted in blue, the techniques shed new light on tiny machinery involved in two of its most important processes – transcription, where the cell makes portable copies or ‘transcripts’ (red) of genes, and sites of DNA replication (green), essential for cell division and growth. Examining the organisation of these structures reveals clues to the health of the cell, and could form the basis of new diagnostic tests.

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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