Scientists Can Now Take Microscopic Time-Lapse Footage Of Teeny-Tiny Action

When something is very very small, microscopes can help you blow them up to a visual scale your eye can perceive. When something happens very slowly, time-lapse footage is a great way to give you a snapshot of the action on a time scale you can relate to. But what about when something very small moves very slowly? Our microscope technology has never been able to handle that kind of imaging—until now.

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Look At Them Go!

Researchers at Austria's Institute of Science and Technology wanted to study cell growth in plant roots. Following the minute movements of roots growing can take days of nonstop photography and tiny adjustments of a microscope to stay focused on the action. Instead, the team developed special technology that would let them capture microscopic time-lapses without all the headache.

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Creating the software to track the moving objects wasn't an issue, but finding a way to give the camera something to track was the real challenge. To do that, the scientists used lasers to illuminate fluorescent proteins in the plants they were studying. The camera locked onto the glowing proteins, which helped it focus on its subject as they moved. Usually, microscopes require samples to be placed horizontally, but because the scientists wanted to study root growth under the pull of gravity, they had to turn the entire operation on its side. The result, as you can see in the video below, shows the amazing ways plant roots move through their environment.

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The Future Of Teeny-Tiny Time-Lapse

Their technology has one more trick up its sleeve: it also lets researchers collect high-resolution images that can be used to generate 3D models. That way, they can inspect the movement from every angle, not just the original perspective. According to Gizmodo, the technique has already been shown to work on the cells of an embryonic Zebrafish. In the future, it could give us amazing new insight into how all sorts of organisms grow and live.

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Written by Curiosity Staff April 4, 2017

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