Now, Using DNA We take Pictures of Cells

Now, researchers have found a way to view cells by using their own genetic material to take snapshots. The technique—called DNA microscopy—produces images that are less clear than those from traditional microscopy, but that could enable scientists to improve cancer treatment and probe how our nervous system forms

To make the DNA microscope, postdoc Joshua Weinstein of the Broad Institute of in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and colleagues started with a group of cells in a culture dish. By creating DNA versions of the RNA molecules in the cells, they produced a large number of DNA molecules they could track. They then added tags—short pieces of DNA—that latched onto these DNA duplicates. Next, the scientists mixed in chemicals that produce multiple copies of these tags and the DNA molecules they connect to. As these copies built up, they started to drift away from their original location. When two wandering DNA molecules ran into each other, they linked up and spawned a unique DNA label that marked the encounter. 

These labels are crucial for capturing a DNA image of the cells. If two DNA molecules start out close to each other, their diffusing copies will hook up frequently and produce more labels than two DNA molecules that start out farther apart. To count the labels, the researchers grind up the cells and analyze the DNA they contain. A computer algorithm can then infer the original positions of the DNA molecules to generate an image.

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