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Breakthrough in Electron Microscopy Could Allow Imaging of Living Cells

by Brendon Nafziger, DOTmed News Associate Editor | October 14, 2009

This is, admittedly a simplified explanation, Dr. Yanik notes, as the scheme is more complicated. There are also many obstacles left in the way of turning the theoretical microscope into a reality.

"Although, there is no fundamental obstacle," Dr. Yanik writes, "it won't be easy to build the first prototype. We have to worry about how to prepare clean streams of electrons, how to inject a sample in one of the electron paths while not disturbing the other path, how to keep electrons' quantum state intact, how to detect electrons efficiently."

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No prototype is in the works now, but Dr. Yanik believes his paper "will ignite a race" to complete one.

Advantages of the living

Dr. Yanik's lab's main focus is on observing how neurons work. His hope is that a future electron microscope would allow his team to image interactions between brain cells, particularly the biochemically busy gap between them known as a synapse.

"Synapses are quite complex and highly dense structures, and thus very hard to image with light microscopy," he writes. "They are also very dynamic; constantly and rapidly shuffling proteins and changing protein distributions while neurons communicate with each other during memory formation and learning. Thus, imaging of synaptic activity at molecular resolution could be revolutionary."

"Most interesting biological processes are the dynamic ones," he adds. "Seeing only one snapshot in time doesn't tell the whole story."

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