One day two years ago, Gary Sarkis brought a bee’s leg to work. The leg was part of his daughter’s science project and Sarkis, who builds scientific microscopes at GE Healthcare Life Sciences for a living, wanted to take a look with a new imaging machine he and his colleagues have developed. “My daughter and I had studied the leg with her toy microscope at home,” Sarkis says. “We spent a lot of quality time together moving it around and getting it in focus. But when we were done, we had nothing more to take away than the memory of what it looked like.”
The bee leg that started it all. Top image: A mosquito head.
The new machine, called Cytell, is an intuitive and relatively inexpensive imaging system that fits on a lab bench and allows researchers to quickly analyze and visualize routine samples, from insect limbs down to cells. “It’s similar to the point-and-shoot camera,” Sarkis says. “It helps take a lot of the microscopist out of getting the perfect shot. It wasn’t until Cytell that I felt I could spend 5 minutes on the microscope and get a great image that I could show my friends.”
Cytell builds on technology developed for high-end instruments like the DeltaVision microscope and the IN Cell analyzer. Sarkis says that it’s “essentially an automated hybrid of the microscope, the cell counter and the cytometer” (a device used for measuring cells). It has a tablet-like user interface powered by software that allows researchers to quickly navigate its functions. “They can simply set up very specific kinds of experiments and automatically receive data in the form of graphs, charts and reports to see if they worked,” he says. Even if they didn’t, they have pretty pictures to hang on their walls.
An image of lingual papillae, hair-like structures located on the top of the tongue.
When Sarkis looked at his daughter’s sample, “an amazingly detailed hairy leg popped right up on my computer screen,” he says. For fun, he also imaged the leg in fluorescent light and saw that it was “very auto-flourescent,” and generated its own light.
The colors added new details to the black and white hairy leg, and when Sarkis showed the photographs to his daughter, the response was predictable. “She wanted the machine for the home,” he says.
A slice of the India rubber plant (Ficus elastica).
It’s clear that Sarkis himself has also caught the Cytell bug. After the first leg, he’s imaged the rest of his daughter’s sample collection. After that, he acquired more samples on Ebay. “To me, these are hidden treasures which have led to some amazing images,” he says.
The leg of a praying mantis.
To date, Sarkis has taken over 2,000 pictures with the machine and assembled a “best of” list (a sampling illustrates this story). He even put them on several family water bottles and on the walls at home. “My wife turned a pair into canvas portraits to hang in our house,” he says.
A cross section of a pine needle.
A cross-section of bracken, a type of fern common in Ireland.
The proboscis of a mosquito.
A close-up of the Rhizopus fungus.
The tip of an onion root.
An ant’s head.
An image of a corn stem.
A mosquito larva.
An image of the Pittosporum glabratum plant.
A slice of the Tilia tree.
A bee’s mouth.
A mouse knuckle.
Images courtesy of Gary Sarkis and GE Healthcare Life Sciences