April 17, 2019
Scientists have developed a new microscopy technique that can give a more extensive look at deep brain activity. Advancements in brain imaging could lead to wonderful breakthroughs in the treatment and diagnosis of countless brain and mental health issues.
Learn about this and more interesting stories from the scientific community in today's issue.
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*-- New microscopy method promises better picture of deep brain activity --*
Scientists expect a new microscopy technique to offer a more comprehensive picture of deep brain activity.
Imaging the brain is hard. Not only is it composed of millions of neurons and host to fast-moving signals, but also much of the activity is buried deep within tissue. So far, most brain imaging technologies focus on either speed or resolution, but struggle to do both together well.
For example, many imaging techniques capture high-resolution brain scans, but can't track neural activity in real time. The few techniques that do combine resolution and speed only can focus on small portions of the brain, imaging just a few cells at a time.
"This is in part because the limits that govern these tradeoffs have not been explored or pushed in a systematic and integrated manner," Alipasha Vaziri, head of the Laboratory of Neurotechnology and Biophysics at Rockefeller University, said in a news release.
To create a better brain imaging technique, researchers decided to build on a method called two-photon microscopy, or 2p microscopy. The technique uses a laser to light-up different parts of the brain.
Because 2p microscopy involves point-by-point scanning of a specific neural targets, the technique is rather slow. Vaziri and his colleagues tweaked the technology to allow the targeting of multiple brain regions in parallel.
Another problem with 2p microscopy is that it can normally only be used to image the brain's surface, the cortex.
"One of the biggest challenges in neuroscience is developing imaging techniques that measure the activity of deep brain regions while maintaining high resolution," Vaziri said.
By combining 2p microscopy with 3p microscopy, a technology much better suited to deep brain imaging, scientists were able to combine accuracy and speed. Researchers dubbed their new technique hybrid multiplexed sculpted light microscopy, or HyMS.
The new method isn't limited to tiny targets. It can be used to track 12,000 neurons within an large tissue sample, and can track neural activity in real time. The method also can track brain activity at different depths simultaneously.
The technology will allow researchers to better understand the complex neural patterns responsible for sophisticated cognition.
"Before, people hadn't even been able to look at the activity of neurons over the entire depth of the cortex, which has multiple layers, all at the same time," Vaziri said. "With this technology, you can actually see what the information flow looks like within the cortex, and between cortical and subcortical structures."
In proof-of-concept tests, scientists used the new technique to image the activity of thousands mice neurons as the animals walked on a treadmill or listened to sounds. The test results suggest researchers can use HyMS to monitor complex neural activities in animals.
Vaziri and his colleagues described the new technology in a paper published this week in the journal Cell.
*-- Oil-eating bacteria found at the bottom of the ocean --*
Scientists have discovered oil-eating bacteria in the planet's deepest oceanic trench, the Mariana Trench.
An international team of researchers, including scientists from Britain, China and Russia, used a submersible to collect microbial samples from the trench, which bottoms out at 6.8 miles below sea level. For reference, the peak of Mount Everest is 5.5 miles above sea level.
Only a few expeditions to the Mariana Trench have been made, and the latest is one of the first to focus on the trench's microbial communities.
"We know more about Mars than the deepest part of the ocean," Xiao-Hua Zhang, a research professor at the Ocean University in China, said in a news release.
When researchers analyzed the microbial samples collected during the expedition, they found a new group of hydrocarbon degrading bacteria. They published the results of the study Friday in the journal Microbiome.
Hydrocarbons are organic compound made up of only hydrogen and carbon atoms. They're found in crude oil and natural gas, among other places.
"These types of microorganisms essentially eat compounds similar to those in oil and then use it for fuel," said Jonathan Toddy, researcher at the University of East Anglia. "Similar microorganisms play a role in degrading oil spills in natural disasters such as BP's 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico."
Researchers were surprised by the abundance of the oil-eating bacteria in the trench. Nowhere else on Earth are oil-eating bacteria so proportionally dominant.
To better understand where the microbes are getting their sustenance, scientists collected water samples the entire length of the water column, from sea surface to the sediments at the bottom of the Mariana Trench.
Scientists found the oil-eating microbes as deep as 4 miles beneath the ocean surface, and researchers suspect the microbes live at even greater depths.
The bacteria are likely deriving a significant portion of their food from pollution that sinks from the ocean surface. But scientists also found evidence that some of the hydrocarbons are sourced from below.
"To our surprise, we also identified biologically produced hydrocarbons in the ocean sediment at the bottom of the trench," said UEA researcher Nikolai Pedentchouk. "This suggests that a unique microbial population is producing hydrocarbons in this environment."
In addition to providing sustenance, researchers suspect the hydrocarbons help microbes survive the crushing pressures of extreme ocean depths.