Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


“Windows” into the Cell’s Interior - New Method Enables Deeper Insights into the Cell

Cryo-electron tomography provides high-resolution, three-dimensional insights into the cell.

However, with this method only very small cells or thin peripheral regions of larger cells can be investigated directly. Scientists of the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry (MPIB) in Martinsried near Munich have now developed a procedure to provide access to cellular regions which were previously nearly inaccessible.

'Shock frozen' cell after treatment with the ion beam. Graphic: Alexander Rigort & Felix Bäuerlein / Copyright: MPI of Biochemistry

Using focused ion beam (FIB) technology, specific cellular material can be cut out, opening up thin “windows” into the cell’s interior. This alternative approach enables the preparation of larger cellular samples devoid of artefacts. The study was recently published in PNAS USA.

With cryo-electron tomography, pioneered by the Department of Molecular Structural Biology headed by Wolfgang Baumeister, researchers can now directly analyze three-dimensional cellular structures. The entire cell or individual cell components are “shock frozen” and enclosed in glass-like ice, thus preserving their spatial structure. The transmission electron microscope then enables the acquisition of two-dimensional projections from different perspectives. Finally, the scientists reconstruct a high-resolution three-dimensional volume from these images. However, the electron beam can penetrate only very thin specimens (for example bacteria cells) up to a thickness of 500 nanometers. Cells of higher organisms are clearly thicker. State-of-the-art electron microscopic preparation techniques are therefore necessary to make also larger objects accessible for cryo-electron tomography.
“The artefact-free and, in particular, targeted preparation of larger cells is a critical step,” explained Alexander Rigort, MPIB scientist. “With the traditional methods, we could never rule out that structures we wanted to investigate were changed.” The meaningfulness of the results was therefore limited, according to the biologist.

Using a focused ion beam microscope (FIB), researchers can now mill single layers of the frozen-hydrated cell and remove them in a controlled manner – thus rendering thin, tailor-made electron-transparent “windows”. An additional advantage of ion thinning is that mechanical sectioning artefacts are completely avoided. This method was originally developed for the material sciences. In structural biology the method shall now provide deeper insights into the molecular organization of the cell’s interior. The thinner the “windows” are, the higher the attainable resolution in the electron microscope. “Now precise insights into the macromolecular architecture of cell regions are possible that were previously nearly inaccessible for cryo-electron microscopy,” said Jürgen Plitzko, scientist at the MPIB.
Original Publication
A. Rigort, F. Bäuerlein, E. Villa, M. Eibauer, T. Laugks, W. Baumeister and J. M. Plitzko: Focused Ion Beam micromachining of eukaryotic cells for cryoelectron tomography. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, March 5, 2012

Dr. Jürgen M. Plitzko
Molecular Structural Biology
Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry
Am Klopferspitz 18
82152 Martinsried

Dr. Alexander Rigort
Molecular Structural Biology
Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry
Am Klopferspitz 18
82152 Martinsried

Anja Konschak
Public Relations
Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry
Am Klopferspitz 18
82152 Martinsried
Phone: +49 (0) 89 8578-2824

Anja Konschak | Max-Planck-Institut
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Novel mechanisms of action discovered for the skin cancer medication Imiquimod
21.10.2016 | Technische Universität München

nachricht Second research flight into zero gravity
21.10.2016 | Universität Zürich

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>