We live in some kind of golden age of microscopy. In the old days, people relied on stains that made cells look like this.
Useful, but not too pretty. It kills the cells too, but more to the point, no matter how useful it is, a picture like this is never going to land you on the cover of Science or secure your next grant. Not anymore. Why? Because the bar has gone way way up. This is what cellular imaging looks like now.
Va-va-va-voom! It’s like some kind of crazy Post-Impressionist fruit bowl on black velvet. That picture has my vote in the 2008 presidential election.
If you want to see some racy, juicy-looking cellular images, look at the winners of the latest Olympus BioScapes Digital Imaging Competition. The honorable mentions are just as good. Look, for example, at this brainbow image and keep in mind that individual brain cells have been genetically induced to color themselves distinctly. Not only are they able to live in this state, you simply couldn’t get this kind of cell-by-cell contrast with the old heavy-handed staining approach. As a result, you can draw maps of the interconnections of individual brain cells.
I know the colors are all pumped up with computer graphics, but still, look at those pictures. I am simultaneously impressed with the image-making capability and the thing being imaged. Leeuwenhoek would be proud.