Microscopy just got reinvented—again.
Traditionally, scientists have used light, x-rays, and electrons to peer inside tissues and cells. Today, scientists can trace thread-like fibers of nerves throughout the brain and even watch living mouse embryos conjure the beating cells of a rudimentary heart.
But there’s one thing these microscopes can’t see: what’s happening in cells at the genomic level.
Now, biophysicist Joshua Weinstein and colleagues have invented an unorthodox type of imaging dubbed “DNA microscopy” that can do just that. Instead of relying on light (or any kind of optics at all), the team uses DNA “bar codes” to help pinpoint molecules‘ relative positions within a sample.
With DNA microscopy, scientists can build a picture of cells and simultaneously amass enormous amounts of genomic information, Weinstein says. “This gives us another layer of biology that we haven’t been able to see.”
Weinstein, Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Investigator Aviv Regev, and molecular biologist Feng Zhang, who was selected as an HHMI investigator in 2018, report the work June 20, 2019, in the journal Cell.
“It’s an entirely new category of microscopy,” Regev says. “It’s not just a new technique, it’s a way of doing things that we haven’t ever considered doing before.”