I admit, I drooled a little bit: HHMI has developed this cool gadget for imaging embryos. It’s got everything: a culture chamber for mouse embryos, the latest light-sheet imaging tech, and fancy digital processing so no matter how the embryo rolls or drifts, it realigns the image. It’s been built by Phillip Keller, who did some amazing work with visualizing zebrafish.
Until now, the best views of living embryos came from fish and flies. A decade ago, Keller and colleagues developed the first “digital embryo” of the zebrafish, a kind of see-through, striped minnow often studied by scientists.
Fish embryos have the advantage that they’re shaped more like a ribbon draped over a ball of yolk, which means you can almost ignore one dimension. Mice start out sort of 2-dimensional too, but are eventually shaped like little balls with all kinds of movement in 3 dimensions over time. I’m finding that spider embryos are similarly obnoxiously thick. But look at what this machine can do!
Also, amazingly, they’re giving it all away for free. The software is all downloadable, along with plans for building the scope (building one from scratch is still out of my budget, though), and they offer free access to the instrument out at Janelia Farm. Maybe someday — I’m still working on just getting reliable embryo production and am thinking about some basic genetics, and years from now when I’m ready to do some advanced digital imaging, maybe they’ll come in boxes of Cracker Jack.
Or better yet, some of my students will move on to do it for me.