New imaging method lets scientists 'see' cell molecules more clearly

January 19, 2009

Scientists have always wanted to take a closer look at biological systems and materials. From the magnifying glass to the electron microscope, they have developed ever-increasingly sophisticated imaging devices.

Now, Niels de Jonge, Ph.D., and colleagues at Vanderbilt University and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), add a new tool to the biology-watcher's box. In the online early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, they describe a technique for imaging whole cells in liquid with a scanning transmission electron microscope (STEM).

"Electron microscopy is the most important tool for imaging objects at the nano-scale - the size of molecules and objects in cells," said de Jonge, who is an assistant professor of Molecular Biology & Biophysics at Vanderbilt and a staff scientist at ORNL. But electron microscopy requires a high vacuum, which has prevented imaging of samples in liquid, such as biological cells.

The new technique - liquid STEM - uses a micro-fluidic device with electron transparent windows to enable the imaging of cells in liquid. In the PNAS article, the investigators demonstrate imaging of individual molecules in a cell, with significantly improved resolution (the fineness of detail in the image) and speed compared to existing imaging methods.

"Liquid STEM has the potential to become a versatile tool for imaging cellular processes on the nanometer scale," de Jonge said. "It will potentially be of great relevance for the development of molecular probes and for the understanding of the interaction of viruses with cells."

The technique will also become a resource for energy science, as researchers use it to visualize processes that occur at liquid: solid interfaces, for example in lithium ion batteries, fuel cells, or catalytic reactions.

"Our key innovation with respect to other techniques for imaging in liquid is the combination of a large volume that will accommodate whole cells, a resolution of a few nanometers, and fast imaging of a few seconds per image," de Jonge said.

Source: Vanderbilt University

Explore further: Results from three ground-breaking cancer studies show early benefit to patients

Related Stories

New biomaterial for preventing uncontrolled bleeding

November 16, 2016

Small blood clots called emboli are mostly known for traveling through the vasculature before they lodge and obstruct vessels, impeding blood and oxygen supply to organs like the lung. To stop excessive bleeding or the flow ...

A little light construction—laser welding in three acts

November 9, 2016

Welding is said to be more art than science. In part, this is a nod to the vital, skilled work that welders perform. It's also recognition of the fact that the physics of the process is really, really difficult to understand.

Recommended for you

Swiss firm acquires Mars One private project

December 2, 2016

A British-Dutch project aiming to send an unmanned mission to Mars by 2018 announced Friday that the shareholders of a Swiss financial services company have agreed a takeover bid.

New aspect of atom mimicry for nanotechnology applications

December 2, 2016

In nanotechnology control is key. Control over the arrangements and distances between nanoparticles can allow tailored interaction strengths so that properties can be harnessed in devices such as plasmonic sensors. Now researchers ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

E_L_Earnhardt
not rated yet Jan 19, 2009
A very sensitive digital voltmeter is needed to measure the total "free electron load" within the living cell. We could then predict the onset of accelerated mitosis, (cancer), in time to drain off the energy before it goes malignant!

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.