A proposal by a team of UC Davis scientists to develop the world's first electron microscope capable of filming live biological processes has been awarded a $2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health.
The team's plan is to extend the capabilities of a powerful new imaging tool called the dynamic transmission electron microscope or DTEM. These instruments can snap 10 to 100 images per millionth of a second, while capturing details as small as 10 nanometers, or about four times the diameter of a DNA molecule.
If they can be adapted to living, moving systems, DTEMs could achieve resolutions 100 times greater than currently attainable for live processes, enabling scientists to observe and record biological processes at the molecular level.
"A microscope with these capabilities will allow us to make milestone advances in our understanding of diseases like cancer, bacterial or viral infections, and basic biological processes," said the research team's leader, Nigel Browning, a professor of chemical engineering and materials science at UC Davis and a staff scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The instrument he and his colleagues propose to design and build would be capable of attaining resolutions as low as one or two nanometers.
Currently, there are only three DTEMs in use worldwide, none of which are designed for observing living systems. Rather, they are utilized to document such processes as inorganic chemical reactions and the dynamics of materials as they change from one state solid, liquid or gas to another. Browning led the group that developed a DTEM in use at Lawrence Livermore.
DTEMs are advanced versions of transmission electron microscopes (TEMs), which have graced research facilities since the late 1930s. However, rather than taking static photos like their predecessors, DTEMs capture processes in real time by using a pulsed laser to produce very short bursts of electrons to illu
|Contact: Liese Greensfelder|
University of California - Davis