This is how an immune cell moves through the inner ear of a zebrafish: the microscopic image that we have been looking for 350 years

In the early 1660s, Robert Hooke put a sheet of cork under his microscope. It was then that he realized that it was made up of small polyhedral-shaped structures very similar to the cells of a honeycomb. In 65, he published Micrographía, an amazing collection of 50 images in which for the first time there was talk of 'cells'.

Since then, scientists have obsessively studied living cells with increasingly better microscopes. The problem is, for hundreds of years, to get sharp, powerful images, we've done exactly the same thing: We take cells and place them on a glass slide or a Petri dish.

But is that realistic? Do we really have to assume that cells function exactly the same in the solitude of the microscope as they do in the chemical effervescence of whole organisms? Wouldn't it be better to look directly? To fill in the gaps left by our approach to cellular function, we used indirect methods; but Eric Betzig had an idea.

A window to the cellular world

The idea seems simple, combining two different optical technologies: on the one hand, they resorted to adaptive optics, a technique that astronomers use to counteract, in real time, the effects of the Earth's atmosphere on capturing space images. On the other, they pulled reticular light sheet microscopy that allowed them to reconstruct a high-resolution 3D image of a cell from two-dimensional images.

Last year, using this technique, Betzig's team was able to observe finer details of spinal nerve circuits, the movement of cancer cells, or the trajectories of a group of immune cells passing through the zebrafish's inner ear.

The images are simply amazing and that is why they have gone viral again these days. Of course, the technology is far from being accessible to laboratories around the world. It is also not particularly manageable. To give a piece of information, we are talking about a microscope more than three meters high. This is the next step, making this technology affordable and easy to use.In the meantime, we will have to "settle" for these wonderful proofs of concept.

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