Despite significant advancements in electron and scanning probe microscopy, visible light microscopy remains the workhorse for the study of biological cells. Because cells are optically transparent, they can be noninvasively imaged with visible light in three-dimensions. Also, visible light allows the fluorescent tagging and detection of cellular constituents, such as proteins, nucleic acids and lipids. The one drawback to visible light imaging in biology has been the diffraction barrier, which prevents visible light from resolving structures smaller than half the wavelength of the incident light. Recent breakthroughs in nanophotonics have made it possible to overcome this barrier and bring subcellular components into view with optical imaging systems. However, such systems are complex, expensive and, oddly enough, bulky in size.
"Previously, we had shown that subwavelength dielectric nanowire waveguides can efficiently shuttle ultraviolet and visible light in air and fluidic media," Yang says. "By incorporating one of our nanophotonic components into a simple, low-cost, bench-top fibre-optical set-up, we were able to miniaturize our endoscopic system."
To test their nanowire endoscope as a local light source for subcellular imaging, Yang and his co-authors optically coupled it to an excitation laser then waveguided blue light across the membrane and into the interiors of individual HeLa cells, the most commonly used immortalized human cell line for scientific research.
"The optical output from the endoscope emission was closely confined to the nanowire tip and thereby offered highly directional and localized illumination," Yang says. "The insertion of our tin oxide nanowire into the cell cytoplasm
did not induce cell death, apoptosis, significant cellular stress, or membrane rupture. Moreover, illuminating the intracellular environment of HeLa cells with blue light using the nanoprobe did not harm
|Contact: Lynn Yarris|
DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory