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New microscope reveals ultrastructure of cells
Date:11/19/2010

This release is available in German.

For the first time, there is no need to chemically fix, stain or cut cells in order to study them. Instead, whole living cells are fast-frozen and studied in their natural environment. The new method delivers an immediate 3-D image, thereby closing a gap between conventional microscopic techniques.

The new microscope delivers a high-resolution 3-D image of the entire cell in one step. This is an advantage over electron microscopy, in which a 3-D image is assembled out of many thin sections. This can take up to weeks for just one cell. Also, the cell need not be labelled with dyes, unlike in fluorescence microscopy, where only the labelled structures become visible. The new X-ray microscope instead exploits the natural contrast between organic material and water to form an image of all cell structures. Dr. Gerd Schneider and his microscopy team at the Institute for Soft Matter and Functional Materials have published their development in Nature Methods (DOI:10.1038/nmeth.1533).

With the high resolution achieved by their microscope, the researchers, in cooperation with colleagues of the National Cancer Institute in the USA, have reconstructed mouse adenocarcinoma cells in three dimensions. The smallest of details were visible: the double membrane of the cell nucleus, nuclear pores in the nuclear envelope, membrane channels in the nucleus, numerous invaginations of the inner mitochondrial membrane and inclusions in cell organelles such as lysosomes. Such insights will be crucial for shedding light on inner-cellular processes: such as how viruses or nanoparticles penetrate into cells or into the nucleus, for example.

This is the first time the so-called ultrastructure of cells has been imaged with X-rays to such precision, down to 30 nanometres. Ten nanometres are about one ten-thousandth of the
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Contact: Dr. Gerd Schneider
gerd.schneider@helmholtz-berlin.de
49-030-806-213-131
Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres
Source:Eurekalert  

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