Sunday, January 22, 2012

Bubblegram Imaging!

Scientists at the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) have come up with the most incredible way to view the inner workings of viruses by innovating a whole new imaging technique called: bubblegram imagery.
Until now, researchers had only been able to visualize structures on the surface of viruses. The imaging technique Cryo-electron microscopy was the most successful technique used to image these extremely small particles. The limitation of this imaging strategy, however, lies in the fact that it is unable to provide scientists with images of the inner structures of the viruses, which would be extremely helpful in understanding how viral particles interact with the host cell's machinery. The radiation used to image viruses is only employed in very small doses, which is insufficient for viewing any of the inner viral structures. Additionally, higher doses cannot be used since they would damage and possibly destroy the surface viral proteins that could have been seen in the first place.

In trying to determine an optimal level of radiation to view both the inner and outer structure of viruses, researchers at the University of Maryland realized a crucial feature of the inner viral proteins: that they are most susceptible to damage than DNA. Thus, they first used low doses of radiation and obtained images in which the inner structures of viruses were invisible. Next, they used very high doses of radiation, and found that to their surprise, the inner structures could be viewed as clusters of small bubbles. Thus, they simply had to superimpose the two images in order to reconstruct a 3D model of the entire viral structure! This technique has a great future ahead and could be of tremendous use in the development of vaccines, understanding the interaction between viral particles and cellular DNA, and even in visualizing the difference between cancer and non-cancer cells.

- Julie

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