New imaging tool helps scientists ’see’ cell molecules more clearly

January 20th, 2009 - 12:27 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Jan 20 (IANS) A powerful new tool can image single molecules in a cell, with much greater clarity and speed, compared to existing methods. The new tool, dubbed liquid scanning transmission electron microscope or liquid STEM, uses a micro-fluidic device with electron transparent windows to enable the imaging of cells in liquid.

“Electron microscopy is the most important tool for imaging objects at the nano-scale - the size of molecules and objects in cells,” said Niels de Jonge, assistant professor of Molecular Biology & Biophysics at Vanderbilt University and scientist at Oak Ridge National Lab (ORNL), who developed the technique with colleagues.

“But electron microscopy requires a high vacuum, which has prevented imaging of samples in liquid, such as biological cells,” he said.

“Liquid STEM has the potential to become a versatile tool for imaging cellular processes on the nanometre 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 visualise processes that occur at liquid-solid interfaces, for example in lithium ion batteries, fuel cells, or catalytic reactions, said an ORNL release.

“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 nanometres, and fast imaging of a few seconds per image,” de Jonge said.

These findings have been published in the online early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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