Transparent materials do not ordinarily absorb visible or near-infrared light. However, the intensity of a tightly focused femtosecond laser pulse is great enough that nonlinear absorption of the laser energy takes place in transparent materials, leading to optical breakdown and permanent material modification. Because the absorption process is nonlinear, absorption and material modification are confined to the extremely small focal volume. Optical breakdown in transparent or semi-transparent biological tissues depends on intensity rather than energy. As a result, focused femtosecond pulses induce optical breakdown with significantly less pulse energy than is required with longer pulses. The use of femtosecond pulses therefore minimizes the amount of energy deposited into the targeted region of the sample, minimizing mechanical and thermal effects that lead to collateral damage in adjacent tissues. We demonstrate photodisruptive surgery in animal skin tissue and single cells using 100-fs laser pulses. In mouse skin, we create surface incisions and subsurface cavities with much less collateral damage to the surrounding tissue than is produced with picosecond pulses. Using pulses with only a few nanojoules of energy obtained from an unamplified femtosecond oscillator, we destroy single mitochondria in live cells without affecting cell viability, providing insights into the structure of the mitochondrial network. An apparatus is constructed to perform subcellular surgery and multiphoton 3D laser scanning imaging simultaneously with a single laser and objective lens.