In a groundbreaking development, a team of researchers at HHMI’s Janelia Research Campus has revolutionized the field of microscopy by adapting astronomy techniques to enhance the clarity and sharpness of images of biological samples. This innovative approach, detailed in the journal Optica, promises to provide biologists with a more efficient and cost-effective way to obtain high-resolution microscopy images.

Astronomers have long utilized techniques to correct the distortions caused by atmospheric conditions in images of distant galaxies, enabling them to capture clearer and sharper pictures. Similarly, microscopists have faced challenges in imaging thick biological samples, which also exhibit light distortion and create aberrations in images. While adaptive optics methods have been employed to mitigate these distortions, they have been hindered by complexity, cost, and slow processing speeds, limiting their accessibility to many research labs.

To address these limitations, the team at Janelia Research Campus turned to phase diversity techniques, commonly used in astronomy but novel to the life sciences. By incorporating additional images with known aberrations into a blurry image with unknown aberrations, the phase diversity method provides the necessary information to deblur the original image. Unlike traditional adaptive optics approaches, phase diversity can be seamlessly integrated into existing imaging systems without significant modifications, offering a promising avenue for enhancing microscopy.

The researchers first adapted the astronomy algorithm for microscopy applications and conducted thorough simulations to validate its effectiveness. Subsequently, they constructed a microscope equipped with a deformable mirror and two additional lenses to introduce the known aberrations. By enhancing the software for the phase diversity correction process, the team streamlined the implementation of the new method.

Enhanced Speed and Clarity

In a series of tests, the researchers demonstrated the capability of their technique to calibrate the deformable mirror of the microscope at a rate 100 times faster than existing methods. Moreover, they successfully corrected randomly generated aberrations, leading to clearer images of fluorescent beads and fixed cells. The next phase of their research involves evaluating the method on real-world samples, such as living cells and tissues, and expanding its applicability to diverse microscopy setups.

The team envisions that their faster and more cost-effective approach to adaptive optics could democratize access to high-resolution microscopy, empowering biologists to gain deeper insights into cellular structures and processes. With ongoing efforts to automate and simplify the method, the researchers aim to facilitate its widespread adoption in research laboratories worldwide. Ultimately, this innovation holds the promise of enabling scientists to visualize and analyze biological specimens with unprecedented clarity and precision.


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