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MU researchers develop advanced 3-dimensional 'force microscope'
Date:12/17/2013

COLUMBIA, Mo. Membrane proteins are the "gatekeepers" that allow information and molecules to pass into and out of a cell. Until recently, the microscopic study of these complex proteins has been restricted due to limitations of "force microscopes" that are available to researchers and the one-dimensional results these microscopes reveal. Now, researchers at the University of Missouri have developed a three-dimensional microscope that will yield unparalleled study of membrane proteins and how they interact on the cellular level. These microscopes could help pharmaceutical companies bring drugs to market faster.

"Force microscopes are very different from the microscopes we used in biology class," said Gavin King, assistant professor of physics and astronomy in the College of Arts & Science at MU, and joint assistant professor of biochemistry. "Instead of using optics, force microscopes incorporate a tiny needle that gets dragged across the surface of the slide or specimen, similar to how a blind person reads Braille or comparable to the needle of an old record player. However, the one-dimensional, traditional method of studying membrane proteins through a force microscopewhile goodonly yields limited results," King said.

Normally, force microscopes measure the compression of the needle against the specimen by bouncing a single laser off the cantilever, or arm, that holds the microscopic needle in place. As the cantilever moves, it deflects light that is sent back to a highly advanced computer. There, the results are interpreted, giving researchers an idea of how the membrane proteins are interacting with the cell.

Usually, to determine membrane protein structure in detail, specimens must be crystallized, or frozen; therefore, the specimen cannot be studied as it would behave in the primarily liquid environment found in the body.

King and his fellow researcher, Krishna Sigdel, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Physics
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Contact: Jeff Sossamon
sossamonj@missouri.edu
573-882-3346
University of Missouri-Columbia
Source:Eurekalert  

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