"Improving Our Vision of Nanobiology"
Deborah Kelly, Assistant Professor, VTC Research Institute Assistant Professor, Biological Sciences, College of Science at Virginia Tech
Understanding the properties of molecular machines is a common goal of biologists and engineers. Technical barriers in high-resolution imaging limit our knowledge of dynamic events at the nanoscale level. Transmission electron microscopy (TEM) permits us to peer into the world of cells and molecules. However, functional machines must be fixed in order to enter the ultrahigh vacuum system of a TEM. This is typically accomplished by freezing specimens at high velocity in a thin film of vitreous ice. Although ice preserves the structural features of biological assemblies, it also arrests them, making it difficult to understand dynamic mechanisms. Recent advances in the development of materials such as graphene and silicon nitride provide new opportunities for TEM imaging in real-time. I will describe our efforts to exploit these new materials and to create environmental chambers for performing experiments in situ or "inside" the TEM column. In conjunction with new microfluidic-based specimen holders, we can now view biological machinery in a native liquid environment with nanometer resolution. This allows us to visualize dynamic mechanisms in a completely new way. We are applying this new technology to better understand viral and cellular processes for biomedical applications.