For over a century, it has been accepted that diffraction phenomena limit the resolution of light microscopy to ~250 nm as described in Abbe’s law (1873). Therefore, biologists viewed with great excitement the demonstration -in the last decade- of clever new fluorescence based techniques that can break the resolution limit by smartly circumventing Abbe’s law.
These “super-resolution microscopy” or “nanoscopy” techniques (SIM, STED, STORM-PALM) enable achieving resolutions down to 10-50 nm. This capability of the emerging nanoscopy technology to rigorously break the Abbe-limit has been reported in several detailed publications that show crisp fluorescence images with unprecedented detail. Moreover, first steps in the direction of more advanced nanoscopy (e.g. live-cell nanoscopy) have been made.
However, the potential of nanoscopy is much higher; it will allow the direct observation of the molecular machines that make up the cell and enable extraction of functional data such as molecular interactions and dynamics (e.g., by live-cell imaging, FRET, FRAP or single-molecule tracking). Exploiting the full potential of nanoscopy will open the door to new insights into molecular processes in cells and, consequently, into compelling biomedical research.