UT Southwestern gets new cryo-electron microscope

Richard Anderson, chairman of cell biology.

The cryo-EM offers the ability to view, analyze and computer-simulate individual molecules, clusters of molecules and other sub-cellular structures within a cell. Resolution is more than three times the whole-cell magnification now possible with standard electron microscopes, which typically focus down to about three nanometers, or three-billionths of a meter - 705,000 times smaller than a pinhead. The new instrument can focus on cell components of less than one-billionth of a meter in size - 2.1 million times smaller than a pinhead.

The cryo-EM paid for through the Texas Permanent University Fund is housed in the Imaging Core Facility of the Philip R. Jonsson Basic Science Research Building. It is operated jointly by Dr. Christopher J. Gilpin, assistant professor of cell biology and director of the molecular and cellular imaging facility, and Dr. Masahide Kikkawa, assistant professor of cell biology. Dr. Kikkawa was recruited to UT Southwestern from the University of Tokyo's Graduate School of Medicine partially because of his expertise in using the instrument.

"Cellular machineries are usually composed of large molecular complexes that are often too difficult to be analyzed by X-ray crystallography and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy," Dr. Kikkawa said. "The new cryo-EM will fill the gap between such atomic-level understanding of these molecules and cellular-level activities."

Similar to a patient having a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) scan, minute biological samples can be imaged from different angles and a three-dimensional view obtained on the cryo-EM via specialized computer software, Dr. Gilpin said.

Said Dr. Anderson: "This cryo-EM is specialized for obtaining high resolution, 3-D information about the structure of macromolecular complexes like biological motors and ribosomes. I anticipate the structure of many important complexes wil

Contact: Scott Maier
UT Southwestern Medical Center

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