Optical microresonators1, which confine light within a small cavity, are widely exploited for various applications ranging from the realization of lasers2 and nonlinear devices3, 4, 5 to biochemical and optomechanical sensing6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11. Here we use microresonators and suitable optical gain materials inside biological cells to demonstrate various optical functions in vitro including lasing. We explore two distinct types of microresonator—soft and hard—that support whispering-gallery modes. Soft droplets formed by injecting oil or using natural lipid droplets support intracellular laser action. The laser spectra from oil-droplet microlasers can chart cytoplasmic internal stress (∼500 pN μm–2) and its dynamic fluctuations at a sensitivity of 20 pN μm–2 (20 Pa). In a second form, whispering-gallery modes within phagocytized polystyrene beads of different sizes enable individual tagging of thousands of cells easily and, in principle, a much larger number by multiplexing with different dyes.
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