Generally, if scientists want to see how a living thing functions in high resolution, they need to slice it into tiny pieces first. Now, there’s scientists a powerful and bizarre new tool in researchers’ arsenal.
According to research published in Nature, a new technique called ultimate 3D imaging of solvent-cleared organs (uDISCO for short) makes mice look like glow-in-the-dark gummy bears.
uDISCO isn’t completely new, but it was recently perfected by Ali Ertürk of the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich. It uses genetic modification to make a specimen’s proteins glow green, making them easy to identify by laser scanning. As for the “solvent-cleared organs” portion of the name, therein lies the gruesome bit: water and fat are chemically stripped and dehydrated out of the specimen over the course of several days, shrinking it by as much as 65 percent. The process even turns bones transparent.
The result, in this case anyway, is a small, nearly transparent mouse whose nerves and organs can be viewed with terrific detail. The essential parts of the mouse are exactly where they normally are, with the extraneous stuff is removed or made see-through.
Chief among uDISCO’s potential applications is the possibility for mapping the human brain, as well as learning about diseases that affect it like Alzheimers and Parkinson’s. The level of detail achievable through the technique is best illustrated by the video below, which includes a fly-through of a mouse’s nervous system. (Which let’s not even pretend that isn’t the coolest shit you’ve seen today.)