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Ultrafast MEMS Mirror Boosts Genetic Research

DRESDEN, Germany, May 7, 2014 — Light of varying wavelengths can be diverted more quickly than ever, and with microscale accuracy, thanks to a new programmable MEMS-mirror-array chip.

A team at the Fraunhofer Institute for Photonic Microsystems (IPMS) developed the chip, which consists of an array of more than 65,000 micromirrors that can be tilted separately and continuously. Installed in an optical microscope, it can be used to illuminate numerous targeted areas smaller than single cells. This stimulates specific light-sensitive molecules in groups, which is conducive to genetic exploration, the researchers said.

Programmable ultra-fast micromirror array for optical microscopes. Courtesy of Fraunhofer Institute for Photonic Microsystems.

A second MEMS chip can be added, allowing selection of specific areas at precise angles of illumination. The new technique can also highlight structures with even greater accuracy, and can significantly reduce undesired environmental influences that often compromise this type of research.

In their study, the IPMS researchers — alongside scientists from the Platform for Imaging Dynamics (PFID) at France’s Pasteur Institute and a team from In-Vision Digital Imaging Optics in Austria — are applying the combination of optics and genetics to zebrafish embryos and fruit fly larvae, aiming to influence the expression of individual genes in cells and organs.

This will make it possible to study the influence of specific genes on the development of organisms with more precision, the researchers said. The MEMS system could also be used to activate neurons via genetically modified ion channels that are light sensitive.

The research is supported by the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research and the French National Research Agency.

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