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

Jan 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: First sex determining genes appeared in mammals 180 million years ago

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Citizen scientists match research tool when counting sharks

13 hours ago

Shark data collected by citizen scientists may be as reliable as data collected using automated tools, according to results published April 23, 2014, in the open access journal PLOS ONE by Gabriel Vianna from The University of Wes ...

User comments : 1

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!

More news stories

Phase transiting to a new quantum universe

(Phys.org) —Recent insight and discovery of a new class of quantum transition opens the way for a whole new subfield of materials physics and quantum technologies.

Imaging turns a corner

(Phys.org) —Scientists have developed a new microscope which enables a dramatically improved view of biological cells.