Biochemists are deploying viruses as “nano-cameras” to get a unique picture of what goes on inside living cells and a greater understanding of how viruses themselves work.

A team led by Bogdan Dragnea at Indiana University in Bloomington is exploiting the ability of viruses laden with gold to break into cells, along with the viral shell’s own telltale response to laser light. Together these give an unprecedented picture of the chemical and physical activity in cells.

Researchers currently study living cells using a technique called Raman spectroscopy. When laser light bounces off some materials, most of the scattered light has the same wavelength as the incident light. But a fraction called the Raman spectrum has an altered wavelength due to the characteristic vibration of some molecules in the material.

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