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New technique PICASSO allows staining of proteins in tissue in many colours without need to account for overlapping spectra

09 July 2022

Still Life

Artists have options – a huge palate of shades and hues to splash across a canvas. But ‘painting’ real life so it can be seen under a microscope is often limited. Using brightly coloured fluorescent stains to highlight specific biological bits is only useful if they can be separated afterwards by their unique colourful properties – their spectra. With similar colours this becomes a challenge, especially in the brain, where spectra may change in different tissues. Here researchers use a technique, called PICASSO, that allows them to use many distinct colours in a stained slice of a mouse’s brain. The secret is mutual information – how much ‘information’ from one colour bleeds into the spectrum of another. By designing software to minimise this overlap during analysis, scientists spot different blends in nearby structures – potentially expanding the palette of colours available to paint still, and not so still, microscopic life.

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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