An award has been made to Arizona State University to fund an electron microscope for use in the biological sciences by many faculty and their students in the southwestern region of the United States. The instrument will be housed in an existing regional electron microscope facility and supported by existing technical staff. The classroom and remote lecture courses and practical instruction currently offered in biological electron microscopy at ASU will be extended to include the more advanced and higher resolution cryo-electron microscopy techniques of which this machine is capable, while the internationally recognized ASU hands-on Winter School in high-resolution electron microscopy, offered annually since 1984 and heavily oversubscribed, will be expanded to cover this field. The next generation of scientists and educators, including groups under-represented in STEM fields, will be actively recruited and enrolled and will benefit significantly from the new research projects and funding made possible by acquisition of this instrument. The new cryo EM facility will provide three-dimensional images with exquisite fidelity of the molecular machines and protein molecules responsible for life on earth. These images will provide structural knowledge that is fundamental to attainment of the new understanding needed to improve the development of new drugs, new organic photovoltaics for solar energy, new sensor molecules, and better understand how proteins function (in viruses, cells, and tissues). This profound expansion of penetrating vision will give new eyes to scientists attempting to understand the origin and fundamental mechanisms present in many diseases (including afflictions such as Alzheimer's disease) and will lead to a parallel understanding of the function of living tissues, for example, revealing deeper understanding of how the signaling and protein molecules in human muscles work. Further expanding this impact, cryo EM will enable research at the intersection of state of the art science and environmentally sustainable practices through contributions to research that monitors the safety of nanomaterials deposited in the environment.

The research undertaken using this new cryo EM facility will mainly be based on "single-particle cryo-electron microscopy", a method which allows three-dimensional images of the molecules of life to be recorded at such high magnification that the individual atoms in the molecules can be seen (in favorable cases). This enables proteins and other nanoscale biological structures molecules to be imaged without having to be first crystallized (as in conventional crystallography). When possible, leaping beyond this tedious trial-and-error process, which sometimes takes many years, or in some cases may never be possible, is a true game-changer in structural biology. By studying the way atoms are arranged in molecules, scientists can improve the effectiveness of drugs, reduce side effects, and also understand how the molecular machines on which life is based operate. In addition, new methods for imaging molecules will be developed including methods based on electron-beam scattering from protein nanocrystals, the development of new phase-plates for electron beams, and the use of new scanning probe microscopy modes to obtain three-dimensional images of entire cells, normally considered too large to be imaged in the electron microscope.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Biological Infrastructure (DBI)
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Robert Fleischmann
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Arizona State University
United States
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