Virtual nanoscopy: Like 'Google Earth' for cell biologists

Aug 06, 2012

Just as users of Google Earth can zoom in from space to a view of their own backyard, researchers can now navigate biological tissues from a whole embryo down to its subcellular structures thanks to recent advances in electron microscopy and image processing, as described in The Journal of Cell Biology (JCB). An upgrade to the JCB DataViewer (http://jcb-dataviewer.rupress.org), JCB's browser-based image presentation tool, now also makes these data publicly accessible for exploration and discovery.

Since the early days of cell biology, has revealed in exquisite detail. The technique has always been limited, however, by the fact that it can only capture a tiny portion of the cell in a single image at high resolution, making it difficult for researchers to relate the structures they see to the cell as a whole, let alone to the tissue or organ in which the cell is located. Viewing samples at lower resolution, on the other hand, can reveal the larger picture of a cell or tissue, but researchers then lose the benefit of seeing fine details.

A team of scientists from Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands has addressed this problem by developing new tools for stitching together thousands of electron microscopy images into single, high-resolution images of —a "Google Earth" for cell biologists—which can be explored using the newly enhanced JCB DataViewer.

Advances in “virtual nanoscopy” enable the generation of large-scale composite images of biological tissues, as described in The Journal of Cell Biology (JCB) and made accessible through an upgrade to JCB’s JCB DataViewer web application. Users can “zoom in” from a high-resolution, composite image of a zebrafish embryo (top) to detailed images of tiny subcellular structures (bottom). Credit: © Williams et al, 2012

Faas et al. describe their recent advances to a technique called "virtual nanoscopy" in the August 6th issue of JCB. The researchers were able to stitch together over 26,000 individual images to generate an almost complete electron micrograph of a zebrafish embryo encompassing 281 gigapixels in total at a resolution of 16 million pixels per inch. Using the JCB DataViewer, anyone can navigate the zebrafish image from the level of the whole, 1.5 millimeter-long embryo down to subcellular structures.

The ability to integrate information across cells and tissues will provide researchers with exceptional opportunities for future discoveries. But the image's large size and complexity meant that providing access to Faas et al.'s data necessitated a major upgrade to the JCB DataViewer, a browser-based image hosting platform originally launched in 2008 to promote the sharing of original data associated with JCB publications.

"If you can image it, you should be able to publish it," says JCB Executive Editor Liz Williams. As a journal, "JCB remains committed to developing cutting-edge tools for the presentation of the data that drive progress in the field of cell biology."

Explore further: 'Hairclip' protein mechanism explained

More information:
Faas, F.G.A., et al. 2012. J. Cell Biol. doi:10.1083/jcb.201201140
Williams, E.H., et al. 2012. J. Cell Biol. doi:10.1083/jcb.201207117

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

FHL1 helps build muscle mass

Dec 15, 2008

Cowling et al. report how to build muscle mass with FHL1. The protein partners with and activates the transcription factor, NFATc1. Encouraging this partnership might provide a possible treatment for muscle ...

New clues about mitochondrial 'growth spurts'

Mar 02, 2009

Mitochondria are restless, continually merging and splitting. But contrary to conventional wisdom, the size of these organelles depends on more than fusion and fission, as Berman et al. show. Mitochondrial ...

Matrix fragments trigger fatal excitement

Dec 29, 2008

Shredded extracellular matrix (ECM) is toxic to neurons. Chen et al. reveal a new mechanism for how ECM demolition causes brain damage. The study will appear in the December 29, 2008 issue of The Journal of ...

Leptin's long-distance call to the pancreas

Dec 22, 2008

Rube Goldberg—the cartoonist who devised complex machines for simple tasks—would have smiled at one of leptin's mechanisms for curbing insulin release. As Hinoi et al. show, the fat-derived hormone enlists ...

Recommended for you

Japanese scientist resigns over stem cell scandal

5 hours ago

A researcher embroiled in a fabrication scandal that has rocked Japan's scientific establishment said Friday she would resign after failing to reproduce results of what was once billed as a ground-breaking study on ...

'Hairclip' protein mechanism explained

19 hours ago

Research led by the Teichmann group on the Wellcome Genome Campus has identified a fundamental mechanism for controlling protein function. Published in the journal Science, the discovery has wide-ranging implications for bi ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.