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Photo, caption follows:

A 3-D structure of mitochondria in mammalian cells recorded with the Leica TCS 4PI; comparison of (a) the 4Pi mode and (b) the standard confocal mode of microscopy. The 4Pi mode allows scientists a much clearer view.
Credit: Joerg Bewersdorf, Max-Planck-Institute for Biophysical Chemistry, Goettingen, Germany

What Keeps Organisms Alive?
Astronomers have space-based telescopes like the Hubble Space Telescope to understand the history and structure of the universe. Physicists have giant particle accelerators to isolate the fundamental elements of energy and matter. Now biologists have an advanced tool to examine the structure of genes.

Imagine looking at a satellite image of your home state in such high resolution that you can spot your local college football field. Then imagine being able to see the football itself, in 3-D. The 4 Pi microscope represents a comparable increase in resolution, only on a tiny scale.

The 4-Pi Confocal Laser Scanning Microscope is one of the world's most advanced microscopes, capable of revealing the structure of genetic material in a cell in 3-D. The first such instrument is now in use in the United States, thanks to an NSF Biological Sciences Directorate grant awarded to the Institute for Molecular Biophysics in Maine. The institute's members are scientists at the University of Maine at Orono, the Maine Medical Center Research Institute in Scarborough and the Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor.

The institute's goal is to explore the structure and function of genes and chromosomes within cells in order to understand exactly how genes control cellular development.

The new microscope will enable researchers to examine specific structures within a cell as small as a single gene on a chromosome at a resolution four to seven times greater than conventional microscopy provides.

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