Scientists increase imaging efficiency in cell structure studies

Sep 03, 2009

Scientists in the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB) Laboratory of Bioengineering and Physical Science have developed a new technique that allows researchers to visualize fine details of cell structure three-dimensionally in thick sections, thus providing greater insight into how cells are organized and how they function. The work is described in a report published online this week in Nature Methods.

The new electron tomography method, referred to as BF STEM tomography, lets researchers image samples that are more than three times the thickness of typical samples.

Electron tomography is carried out at the nanoscale on individual cells. Conventionally, high-resolution imaging of biological specimens has been accomplished by cutting cells into thin sections (300 nanometers or less) and imaging each section separately. Although reconstructing an entire structure from thin sections is laborious, thin sections are used because images of thicker sections typically are blurred. Serial BF STEM tomography accomplishes the same work using fewer yet thicker specimen sections, leading to faster reconstruction of intact organelles, intracellular pathogens, and even entire mammalian cells.

Drs. Alioscka Sousa, Martin Hohmann-Marriott, Richard Leapman and colleagues in NIBIB, in collaboration with Dr. Joshua Zimmerberg and colleagues in the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), demonstrated feasibility and advantages of BF-STEM tomography in a study of infected with , a parasite that causes malaria. High-resolution 3D reconstructions of entire cells were generated by serially imaging just a few thick sections. The intricate system of red blood cell and parasite membranes, as well as several organelles, can be seen in detail.

"We believe that the new technique, which was conceived by Dr. Sousa on the project team, will lead to improved 3D visualization of larger internal structures in mammalian cells at a nanoscale. And it will complement cryo electron tomography and super-resolution optical imaging approaches," according to Dr. Leapman.

Most high-performance electron microscopes can readily be equipped to utilize the BF STEM tomography approach. "This exciting new method, with its ability to provide nanoscale structural details over three dimensions, has the potential for broad application in cell biology," says NIBIB Director Roderic Pettigrew. "This should open new vistas in the understanding of the interplay between cellular structure and function, and is a great example of NIBIB-supported research that moves medical science forward through technological innovation."

Source: NIH/National Institute of Biomedical Imaging & Bioengineering

Explore further: How the brain combines information across sensory modalities

Related Stories

The closest look ever at native human tissue

Dec 05, 2007

Seeing proteins in their natural environment and interactions inside cells has been a long-standing goal. Using an advanced microscopy technique called cryo-electron tomography, researchers from the European ...

Molecular anatomy of influenza virus detailed

Dec 30, 2006

Scientists at the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), part of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., and colleagues at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville ...

An architectural plan of the cell

Mar 06, 2007

Like our body every cell has a skeleton that provides it with a shape, confers rigidity and protects its fragile inner workings. The cytoskeleton is built of long protein filaments that assemble into networks ...

MIT creates 3-D images of living cell

Aug 12, 2007

A new imaging technique developed at MIT has allowed scientists to create the first 3D images of a living cell, using a method similar to the X-ray CT scans doctors use to see inside the body.

Recommended for you

Research shows 'mulch fungus' causes turfgrass disease

3 hours ago

Inadvertently continuing a line of study they conducted about 15 years ago, a team of Penn State researchers recently discovered the causal agent for an emerging turfgrass disease affecting golf courses around ...

Study on pesticides in lab rat feed causes a stir

5 hours ago

French scientists published evidence Thursday of pesticide contamination of lab rat feed which they said discredited historic toxicity studies, though commentators questioned the analysis.

Why the seahorse's tail is square

5 hours ago

Why is the seahorse's tail square? An international team of researchers has found the answer and it could lead to building better robots and medical devices. In a nutshell, a tail made of square, overlapping ...

User comments : 0

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.