Instrument could pave way for new treatments and drug discovery.
UC San Diego’s Nanofabrication Cleanroom Facility (Nano3) is the first institution to obtain a novel FEI Scios dual-beam microscope, with an adaptation for use at cryogenic temperatures. The new microscope will enable research among a highly diverse user base, ranging from materials science to structural and molecular biology.
As Nano3 Technical Director Bernd Fruhberger explains: “There is a tremendous interest in utilizing this instrument among faculty from multiple departments. The departments of nanoengineering, materials and aerospace engineering, electrical and computer engineering, chemistry, physics and biology at UC San Diego all have projects in need of this tool, and have been actively involved in making the procurement of the tool a reality.
“The instrument provides state-of-the-art capabilities for cross-sectioning, preparation of sections for transmission electron microscopy and more,” he adds, “but what truly differentiates it is the novel cryo-capability, which will make it possible for cell biologists to see the structures of biological cells in higher resolution to better understand how cells function at a molecular level. This could possibly pave the way for new treatments and drug discovery.”
Elizabeth Villa, a new assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry at UC San Diego, along with her colleagues at Germany’s Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry, adapted a focused-ion-beam microscope for biological applications during her postdoctoral studies. The design was adopted by the Dutch company FEI into a first-of-a-kind prototype that Villa will further develop in UC San Diego in collaboration with the company.
Villa notes that UC San Diego has an established academic tradition in the area of molecular imaging –most notably reflected in the work of biochemist Roger Tsien. Tsien won the 2008 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the discovery and development of the green fluorescent protein, which revolutionized the fields of cell biology and neurobiology by allowing scientists to peer inside living cells and watch their behavior in real time.
“What I’m doing is similar,” explains Villa, “only I’m using electron microscopy, which gives us higher-resolution images. The idea behind our method is to bring together people who do structural biology with people who do cell biology by using a new tool that will allow us to see the structures of the cells, at high resolution, and better understand what molecules are doing.”