Every human cell is encased in a five-nanometer-thick lipid membrane that protects it from the surrounding environment. Like a gatekeeper, the membrane determines which ions and molecules can pass through. In so doing, it ensures the cell's well-being and stability and allows it to communicate via electrical signals.
Researchers from the Laboratory for fundamental BioPhotonics (LBP) in EPFL's School of Engineering were able to track these moving charges in real time in a completely non-invasive manner. Rather than observing the membranes themselves, they looked at the surrounding water molecules, which, in addition to keeping the membrane intact, change orientation in the presence of electrical charges. So by 'reading' their position, the researchers were able to create a dynamic map of how charges are transported across a membrane.
The researchers' method has just been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). It could shed light on how ion channels function, along with other processes at work in membranes. This clinically viable method could potentially also be used to directly track ion activity in neurons, which would deepen researchers' knowledge of how nerve cells work. "Water molecules can be found wherever there are lipid membranes, which need these molecules to exist," says Sylvie Roke, head of the LBP. "But until now, most studies on membranes didn't look at these molecules. We've shown that they contain important information."
The researchers did this by using a unique second-harmonic microscope that was invented at the LBP. The imaging efficiency of this microscope is more than three orders of magnitude greater than that of existing second-harmonic microscopes. With this microscope, the researchers obtained images of water molecules at a time scale of 100 milliseconds.
To probe the lipid membranes' hydration, the researchers combine two lasers of the same frequency (femtosecond pulses) in a process that generates photons with a different frequency: this is known as second-harmonic light. It is generated only at interfaces and reveals information on the orientation of water molecules. "We can observe what's happening in situ, and we don't need to modify the environment or use bulky markers like fluorophores that would disturb water molecules' movement" says Orly Tarun, the publication's lead author.
Unexpected charge fluctuations are observed
With this method, the researchers observed charge fluctuations in membranes. Such fluctuations were previously unknown and hint at much more complex chemical and physical behavior than is currently considered.
Reference: O. Tarun, C. Hannesschläger, P. Pohl, and S. Roke, A label-free and charge-sensitive dynamic imaging of lipid membrane hydration on millisecond time scales, PNAS
Laboratory of fundamental BioPhotonics (LBP) - Julia Jacobi Chair of Photomedicine
Sylvie Roke | EurekAlert!
To proliferate or not to proliferate
21.03.2019 | Max-Planck-Institut für molekulare Zellbiologie und Genetik
Discovery of a Primordial Metabolism in Microbes
21.03.2019 | Leibniz-Institut DSMZ-Deutsche Sammlung von Mikroorganismen und Zellkulturen GmbH
Nano- and microtechnology are promising candidates not only for medical applications such as drug delivery but also for the creation of little robots or flexible integrated sensors. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research (MPI-P) have created magnetic microparticles, with a newly developed method, that could pave the way for building micro-motors or guiding drugs in the human body to a target, like a tumor. The preparation of such structures as well as their remote-control can be regulated using magnetic fields and therefore can find application in an array of domains.
The magnetic properties of a material control how this material responds to the presence of a magnetic field. Iron oxide is the main component of rust but also...
Due to the special arrangement of its molecules, a new coating made of corn starch is able to repair small scratches by itself through heat: The cross-linking via ring-shaped molecules makes the material mobile, so that it compensates for the scratches and these disappear again.
Superficial micro-scratches on the car body or on other high-gloss surfaces are harmless, but annoying. Especially in the luxury segment such surfaces are...
The Potsdam Echelle Polarimetric and Spectroscopic Instrument (PEPSI) at the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) in Arizona released its first image of the surface magnetic field of another star. In a paper in the European journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, the PEPSI team presents a Zeeman- Doppler-Image of the surface of the magnetically active star II Pegasi.
A special technique allows astronomers to resolve the surfaces of faraway stars. Those are otherwise only seen as point sources, even in the largest telescopes...
Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology and the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, have proposed a way to create a completely new source of radiation. Ultra-intense light pulses consist of the motion of a single wave and can be described as a tsunami of light. The strong wave can be used to study interactions between matter and light in a unique way. Their research is now published in the scientific journal Physical Review Letters.
"This source of radiation lets us look at reality through a new angle - it is like twisting a mirror and discovering something completely different," says...
New research group at the University of Jena combines theory and experiment to demonstrate for the first time certain physical processes in a quantum vacuum
For most people, a vacuum is an empty space. Quantum physics, on the other hand, assumes that even in this lowest-energy state, particles and antiparticles...
11.03.2019 | Event News
01.03.2019 | Event News
28.02.2019 | Event News
21.03.2019 | Life Sciences
21.03.2019 | Physics and Astronomy
21.03.2019 | HANNOVER MESSE