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The Holy Grail of Cell Biology November 21, 2010

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Photography, Science, Toys.

In a paper entitled “Three-dimensional cellular ultrastructure resolved by X-ray microscopy”, researchers  at the Institute for Soft Matter and Functional Materials at the Helmholtz Zentrum Berlin (HZB) have imaged whole mammalian cells at resolutions down to 36nm.  Remember that a human hair is 100,000 nanometers wide.  This, dear readerrr [spelling intentional], is ultramicroscopic imaging, allowing 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 to be imaged with partially coherent light (actually, X-rays generated by BESSY II, the synchrotron source at HZB).  I admit I have no idea what that might mean, but it suggests to me interferometry of some kind: “Partial coherence is the property of two waves whose relative phase undergoes random fluctuations which are not, however, sufficient to make the wave completely incoherent. Illumination with partial coherent light generates significantly higher contrast for small object details compared to incoherent illumination.” (from an article in MedicalDaily.com, in turn based on a press release from the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centers.  At least, this is an English translation of the press release).

This approach has some distinct plusses: no staining is required.  No fluorescent dyes are needed.   Whole cells can be imaged (they have to be frozen, but that’s not hard) at the aforementioned ridiculous resolution.  You need a synchrotron, a frozen sample mounted on a tilt platform and a boatload of code to make sense of the data bouncing off and running through the sample.  And probably royalty payments to Gerd Schneider and James G McNally, who seem to be the lead investigators.

I get the feeling we will be hearing more from them.


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