New scopes

Last month both our EM and Biophysics expertise units received good news: each secured a substantial grant for new infrastructure. Two new microscopes will enable us to continue our pursuit of innovative lines of research.

The biggest grant will be used for a brand new 200kV cryo-transmission electron microscope (TEM), used for high-resolution imaging of the 3D-ultrastructure of molecules, cells and tissues in their native state.

“What is key here is that frozen samples can indeed be studied in their native state, i.e. without chemical fixation,” says Natalia Gunko, our EM expert technologist. “The new 200kV TEM can analyze thicker samples than our current 120kV TEM. When compared with our 3D-SEM, the new 200 kV TEM can focus on the molecular level, while our 3D-SEM has lower resolution and is typically used for tracking neurons in tissue for example.”

The nearly 1.8 million EUR in FWO funding has been acquired through a consortium existing of different partners co-promoting the project, both within CBD and externally at KU Leuven and VIB.

The de Wit lab will use 3D cryo-electron tomography on mossy fiber synapses to understand the role of cell-surface proteins in specifying the connectivity and structural/functional properties of this synapse. The Switch lab will use it to study the rules of heterotypic protein aggregation, and to extend earlier research lines of targeted protein aggregation. Room temperature tomography of thicker sections will also allow to study the presence or absence of amyloid fibers in brain sections of mouse models of Alzheimer’s disease.

Outside of CBD, Kalyan Das (Rega Institute, KU Leuven) will use the new TEM to study functional states of RNA and DNA polymerases of pathogenic viruses and bacteria. Chris Ulens’ lab (KU Leuven) is interested in using cryo-EM for understanding the structural basis of ion channel function. The Strelkov group (KU Leuven) would like to apply tackling the 3D-architecture of intermediate filaments, important cytoskeletal proteins. There are even applications in crop sciences: Moritz Nowack and his team (VIB) are interested in applying electron tomography to study the molecular regulation of programmed cell death as it forms an important aspect of plant development.

But the state-of-the-art TEM is not the only new piece of equipment soon to arrive. Frederic Rousseau received a Hercules grant (620K EUR) to acquire an atomic force microscope (AFM) with spectroscopic capabilities (Raman or infrared spectroscopy) coupled to epifluorescence microscopy. Rousseau co-heads the Switch lab as well as our biophysics expertise unit in close collaboration with Joost Schymkowitz.

“This state-of-the-art instrument will be used to study amyloid strains and the pathology they cause in situ in cell and tissue samples at nanoscale resolution,” says Rousseau.