Scientists have developed a new technique that allows them to visualise gene activity in thousands of cell, simultaneously. That will allow them to understand how our cells function like never before — and it looks damn pretty too.
While scientists have been able to measure gene activity in cells for a long ol’ time, until now the techniques that they use have been limited in both time and space, which has in turn limited the number of cells they can study at once. But now a team from the University of Zurich has developed a technique which allows them to perform parallel measurement of the amount and spatial organisation of genes in tens of thousands of single cells, simultaneously. Phys.org explains:
The method developed by Pelkmans’ PhD students Nico Battich and Thomas Stoeger is based upon the combination of robots, an automated fluorescence microscope and a supercomputer. “When genes become active, specific transcript molecules are produced. We can stain them with the help of a robot”, explains Stoeger. Subsequently, fluorescence microscope images of brightly glowing transcript molecules are generated. Those images were analysed with the supercomputer Brutus, of the ETH Zurich. With this method, one thousand human genes can be studied in 10 thousand single cells.
The image above shows off the technique, used on HeLa cells, to identify gene activity. Different colours represent the main types of mRNA localisation patterns found in the HeLa cells. The scientists believe the technique will allow them understand cancer activity across entire tumours with unprecedented accuracy — so it’s not just a pretty face. [Nature Methods via PhysOrg]