We often think we can see a lot with the naked human eye, but there is a whole world of organisms, functions, proteins, and more at a microscopic level. Microscopes are the eyes that allow us to travel into this minuscule world. Since I began working at a molecular biology lab last summer, I have got the opportunity to work with a host of microscopes ranging from a simple dissection scope, to an epifluorescent microscope, all the way to a confocal microscope (which uses lasers to scan every layer of the sample).
Every experience with a microscope is amazing because of the level of detail that opens up, but my best experience by far occurred on Saturday. I got to do my first live imaging with a special confocal microscope. For the first time I was able to observe green fluorescent protein (GFP) in real time. Typically, for quantification purposes, I use a long staining protocol so my samples are preserved and as part of this staining I get fluorophores to bind to the desired protein to see a fluorescent image under the microscope. This artificial staining produces beautiful images but it is hard to forget that it is after all a human induced product. On the other hand, with live imaging, I was able to dissect my tissue sample and observe its natural fluorescence and structure immediately.
When I saw the first follicle appear on a TV-size screen (hooked-up to the confocal microscope) I was nothing short of giddy with excitement. This tiny egg that is practically impossible to observe with the naked eye had hundreds of cells within it. The cells themselves had large protein in the nuclei and I was able to observe all of this with a microscope!
I ran many samples on Saturday, observing differences between different genotypes and variations of the same protein. Though the follicles looked identical during the simple dissection process, the each proved to be unique specimens once I revealed their full details under the microscope.
I often hear of scientists falling in love with their profession when they look under a microscope for the first time. This wasn’t true for me immediately because I was spoiled with the facilities to use basic microscopes from a young age, but after observing live-imaging over the weekend, I felt I had to pursue a vocation in the sciences.
Never limit yourself to the world you can grasp with your naked eye. Understand that there is a whole world of microscopic organism and another universe out there.