EDSEL: coolest paper of 2008 (so far)

January 11, 2008 at 4:59 pm | | EDSELs, journal club, literature, single molecules

edsel.jpg(Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Awards.)

Lest EverydayScientist fall behind the other blogs (CBC’s Cornies and Kyle’s MAFAYEG), I’m now forced to award prizes for arbitrary things. Right now, I’m worried about a silly-awards gap.

So I give you the first EverydayScientist’ Extraordinary Laud (EDSEL) award for the Coolest Paper of Early January 2008:

Huang, B., Wang, W., Bates, M., Zhuang, X. Three-dimensional super-resolution imaging by stochastic optical reconstruction microscopy. Science 2008 (published online Jan 3).1


Stochastic optical reconstruction microscopy (STORM) is Xiowei’s cool super-resolution technique (Eric Betzig has a similar version called “PALM”). And I’ve already blogged about Bo’s talk at ACS Boston.

There’s not anything revolutionary in this paper: they’ve used their STORM technique, and simply added an extra lens to distort the PSF of single molecules, causing those above or below the focal plane to distort in a consistent manner. That way, they “imprinted” axial information on the image, and can generate 3D representations from the fitting data.2 But, while the technique isn’t a breakthrough, this paper is in Science because the images produced are really amazing:


You can see that the microtubules in the cell move down! Cool. And the supplemental material included this beautiful movie of some microtubules crossing over each other (the scale bar is only 200 nm, below the diffraction limit):

[local /wp-content/uploads/3d-storm_movie.mov View Movie]

3d-storm1_clathrin.jpgAnd I also really loved this comparison of 2D STORM (top) versus a 100-nm thick x-y cross-section in the 3D image (bottom) of some clathrin-coated pits. You can really see that they are hollow!

Now, all these images are of fixed (read: “dead”) cells. Because STORM imaging requires cycling acquisition, each frame generally takes a long time. This makes living-cell imaging and measuring dynamics difficult.3 And this is really a proof-of-principle study: the results don’t answer any biophysical questions. Nevertheless, the images are really beautiful!

I fully expect this technique—and the other super-resolution approaches—to become another tool in the biophysical toolbox (along with TIRF, FRET, FLIM, FRAP, and other acronyms). Just you wait…


1 I tried to be good and requested permission from AAAS to reprint these images and movies. But they haven’t gotten back to me. So I’ll just post them anyway. Don’t sue me, Bo. [UPDATE: Reprinted with permission from AAAS. I finally received permission to use these images. If you wish to reuse these images you can obtain permission from AAAS by following the guidelines here.]

2It is generally known that the dipole-emission pattern of single emitters contain information about axial depth. It is also straightforward to introduce an astigmatic distortion to the optical system to imbed depth information.

3 Not impossible: someday it will be done. Stefan Hell already is quite fast with his PALMIRA imaging.


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  1. Holy abbreviations, Batman!

    Comment by funkmeister — January 13, 2008 #

  2. I want your award name. It’s kinda awesome.

    Comment by psi*psi — January 13, 2008 #

  3. […] The motivation for designing photoactivatable fluorophores that emit many photon include super-resolution schemes (described here and here). […]

    Pingback by Everyday Scientist » a photoactivatable fluorophore — August 20, 2008 #

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