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In a study straight out of an episode of “The Magic School Bus,” scientists have journeyed to the center of a stem cell that’s maturing into a nerve cell.

The researchers used a powerful X-ray microscope to snap pictures of stem cells at different stages of differentiation. They repeated those snapshots from dozens of different angles at every stage, compiling those images to come up with a 3-D reconstruction of the cell as it changes.


center of a cell
Delving through slices of a neuronal nucleus. Heterochromatin in blue, eurochromatin in green, mitochondria in gold. Berkeley Lab/UCSF

They looked specifically at how the formation of chromatin — the material that makes up our chromosomes — changed as the cell matured.

It’s been tricky to image changes in the nucleus because the dyes used in standard imaging techniques don’t always distribute evenly, but the new method offers cell biologists a way to capture chromatin shifts much more reliably.

The team is now harnessing the new technique to see how chromatin’s restructuring affects how genes are expressed. Read about the work in Cell Reports.