Tuesday, August 7, 2012

281-gigapixel photo made of an embryo

Because imaging quality has been steadily improving over the last years, making pictures of small biological building blocks such as cells or tissues became possible. Making detailed pictures can help study biological structures or aid by detecting anomalies that point at disease. Dutch scientists working at Leiden University Medical Center created a huge picture with a stunning 281 gigapixels of a zebrafish embryo. The technique they used is suitable for other samples as well, which means it can be used as a tool to study very small structures.

Technology
In order to create such an incredibly large picture, the scientists stitched together 26.000 pictures taken with an electron microscope. Because an electron microscope can take highly detailed pictures of incredibly small structures, it is necessary to make a lot of them if you want to cover a whole embryo; the zebrafish that was used for the picture session is about 1,5mm in length. The entire photo has a resolution of 16 million pixels per inch, indicating that the level of detail is incredibly high.

Use
The photo is hosted at a special webpage that allows users to zoom in and out, and can be found here. There are more projects hosted there, so that scientists may take advantage of studying the published materials. Because the zebrafish is often used as a model organism in various fields of medical research, it may be beneficial for scientists wishing to study certain intracellular structures. But above all, it is a prove of concept, usable for other small biological stuff, such as cells or tissues.

Outlook
By making a 281-gigapixel photo and showing that stitching together a whole lot of pictures can lead to a Google Earth-like experience, the scientists demonstrate the power of imaging and computer technology in the field of medical research. According to the researchers, applying their technique to other biological components can help detect medical anomalies, which means that we might see similar techniques in the clinic in the near future.

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