For a few weeks in 2017, Wanda Kukulski found herself binge-watching an unusual kind of film: videos of the insides of cells. They were made using a technique called cryo-electron tomography (cryo-ET) that allows researchers to view the proteins in cells at high resolution. In these videos, she could see all kinds of striking things, such as the inner workings of cells and the compartments inside them, in unprecedented detail. “I was so overwhelmed by the beauty and the complexity that in the evenings I would just watch them like I would watch a documentary,” recalls Kukulski, a biochemist at the University of Bern, Switzerland.
In recent years, imaging techniques such as cryo-ET have started to enable scientists to see biological molecules in their native environments. Unlike older methods that take individual proteins out of their niches to study them, these techniques provide a holistic view of proteins and other molecules together with the cellular landscape. Although they still have limitations — some researchers say that the resolution of cryo-ET, for example, is too low for molecules to be identified with certainty — the techniques are increasing in popularity and sophistication. Researchers who turn to them are not only mesmerized by the beautiful images, but also blown away by some of the secrets that are being revealed — such as the tricks bacteria use to infect cells or how mutated proteins drive neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s.Diana Kwon, “The secret lives of cells — as never seen before” at Nature (October 26, 2021)
No wonder panpsychism is catching on, among those who are forbidden to think in terms of design.