Schematic of a microfluidic chamber (a) that accommodates biological assemblies (yellow) in solution while inside a transmission electron microscope column. (b) Magnified view of the chamber surface decorated with IgG antibodies (green) against the outer capsid protein of the rotavirus double-layered particles (DLP) (credit: Virginia Tech)

A high-resolution nanoscale window to the live biological world

December 27, 2012

Investigators at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute have invented a way to directly image biological structures at nanometer-resolution in their natural habitats (a liquid environment).

The technique is a major advancement toward the ultimate goal of imaging biological processes in action at the atomic level.

The technique uses two silicon-nitride microchips with windows etched in their centers and pressing them together until only a 150-nanometer space between them remains.

The researchers then fill this pocket with a liquid resembling the natural environment of the biological structure to be imaged, creating a microfluidic chamber.

Then, because the movement of free-floating structures yield images with poor resolution, the researchers coat the microchip’s interior surface with a layer of natural biological tethers, such as antibodies, which naturally grab onto a virus and hold it in place.

The ultimate goal is live electron-microscope imaging of molecular mechanisms, such as viral assembly pathways and viral entry into host cells.

Read more: A high-resolution nanoscale window to the live biological world | KurzweilAI.

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