NOTTINGHAM, England, Dec. 21 (UPI) -- For the first time, scientists have used ultrasound to image the inside of a cell. Researchers at the University of Nottingham bounced shorter-than-optical wavelengths of sound off the insides of cells, producing image detail at nanoscale.
"People are most familiar with ultrasound as a way of looking inside the body -- in the simplest terms we've engineered it to the point where it can look inside an individual cell," researcher Matt Clark said in a news release. "Nottingham is currently the only place in the world with this capability."
Scientists say their breakthrough -- detailed in the journal Scientific Reports -- will allow researchers to observe and measure the structural and mechanical properties of biochemical processes in record detail.
The resolution of optical images is limited by the wavelength of light being used. Details smaller than the wavelength of light can't be imaged, and because ultraviolet light can damage cells, there is an upper limit to the level of detail rendered by optical bioimaging techniques.
Sound waves don't carry intense amounts of energy, and thus shorter wavelengths can be used to image biological processes without causing cell damage.
"A great thing is that, like ultrasound on the body, ultrasound in the cells causes no damage and requires no toxic chemicals to work," added Clark. "Because of this we can see inside cells that one day might be put back into the body, for instance as stem-cell transplants."