Monday, September 12, 2011

Gummy Embyo and Other Transparent Organs

Biologists have long relied on dissections to study the body and organ structures of different animals. We've all had that class where we cut up a bull's eye, a frog, a mouse or a fish. Sometimes all of these.

We've also used specific species to study the embryo's development, such as the zebra fish, which has the awesome particularity of being transparent at that stage, and which we engineered to remain transparent all the way to adulthood.

A team of Japan scientists just discovered another, madder way to study organs. They developped a chemical reagent, Scale, which turns biological tissue transparent.

Image courtesy of io9, very awesome science site

Those are two mice embryo. The one on the right was treated with Scale, and now you can see everything inside. 

Scale and Optical Imaging Techniques

The beauty of Scale isn't only that it can turn tissue transparent. It also does so without interfering with the fluorescent dye commonly used today in our best imagery techniques (these are very awesome, and I spoke about them in my three posts regarding the brainbow here, here and there).

This means scientists are able to colour specific tissues with a fluorescent protein and use the transparency reagent to remove all interferences. This gives them images of unprecedented clarity. The Japanese team used it to study the mouse's brain, but it is applicable to just every tissue under the sun.

What Remains to be Done

Scale currently has one big disadvantage: it's too potent to use on living organisms. Dr. Atsushi Miyawaki, the leading scientist on the japanese team, believes this could change. They're currently working on a "another, milder candidate reagent which would allow us to study live tissue in the same way, at somewhat lower levels of transparency."

If you want to know more, you can read the io9 article on the subject. I have to agree with them: the transparent embryo looks like a gummi. Yum! 


  1. Wow. That is so crazy! Thanks for sharing, Claudie!

  2. A pleasure! I love sharing such crazy science!

  3. I love i09!!! *lovelovelove*

    Although I may never eat another gummy again, I'm impressed with their ability to come up with these things, although the Japanese are insane when it comes to science. And robotics. And their studies into opening other dimensions which will clearly only lead to tears. Possibly the end of the world.

  4. Ewww. *stares more closely*

    This is amazing, like a squishy little idea bomb.

    Thanks for sharing, Claudie!

  5. Hi Claudie. When I asked my readers yesterday which other blogs I should follow, Sommer Leigh suggested yours.

    Now I'm glad she did because you're studying biochemistry? I mean wow, that's so awesome. What a cool background for a writer to have.

    So anyway, I'm following you now. Nice to meet you!

  6. Sommer: This made me want to eat MORE gummies. I think I'm hard to disgust, and my mind could only think "Hmmmm, gummy bears, yum." XD But yeah, Japanese are so often the leaders of strange but awesome (and a wee bit dangerous) research. :)

    And thanks for Matthew just above. :D

    Hillary: Idea bomb! I love that image, and now I wish the yellow thingy inside the foetus would open and reveal its awesome high concept novel idea to the world. Hee hee.

    Matthew: Hum, wow! I didn't expect that! Welcome around. I do enjoy the biochem background, especially when I write science fiction. It's really helpful! (Not so much in fantasy, when I have to fight my desire to reference to brain, neurons, hormones or DNA. XD)

    Enjoy yourself!


  7. Hi there! I'm pleased to present you with the Versatile Blogger award - further details and fine print available at

  8. Anyone thinking "invisible man" here?

    (I know, two months late. But I just found your blog.)