Saturday, September 17, 2011

How to Make Mouse Embryos Transparent with Pee & Anti-freeze

Image Credit: Nature Neuroscience and Hama, et al

When I first found this story, I assumed the headline attached to it, "How to Make a Transparent Mouse with a Few Simple Ingredients", really meant, as is typically the case, something far less unusual than it sounded. Turns out, I was wrong. Scientists from Riken, a natural sciences research center in Japan, have actually developed a solution that really does make tissue transparent, dead tissue of course, but it was the transparent part that I was suspicious of. Oh, and did I mention that there's urine and anti-freeze involved? Well, sort of.

Using a simple recipe containing urea (see, I told ya), a cell membrane-softening detergent (Ooh, does that mean that Snuggle comes in "Flesh softening" now?) called Triton-X (oh, guess not) , and Glycerol, a component of antifreeze; researchers were able to create a solution called Scale (yes, the "l" is italicized on purpose, I don't know why). Other clearing agents similar to this already exist, but the degree to which they render tissues transparent varies, and they can often interfere with fluorescent tags inserted into the tissues for study. A two week soak in Scale, on the other hand, eliminates both these problems. And because this newest clearing agent allows researches to look as deep as they like into tissues, such as the brain, without interfering with their tagging agents, researchers hope that Scale will provide a simpler and more effective way to trace circuits of the brain in order to create better connectivity maps of the organ; delicate work, that is currently still being done by hand.

It should go without saying that a two week soak in urea, Glycerol, and flesh-softening detergent, would be, not only unpleasant, but not particularly conducive to allowing living tissue to remain that way. So for now, at least, Scale's applications are limited to dead tissues. But researchers do hope to develop a milder version that could be used on living tissue as well. Which could be great news for teenagers of the future, who could no longer be limited to tattoos, piercings, ridiculous clothing, and silly hair cuts, to piss-off their parents; and could instead, be getting things "transparented".

I can hear it now:

"TRANSPARENT IS BEAUTIFUL TOO!" and "I'm totally having my skin transparified to protest racism and animal cruelty. Organs are beautiful man, not food! And there is no hate, if we're all see-thru."


Source: Discover Magazine VIA: GGB on tumblr

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