Skip to Content

Capturing Protein Interactions

Freezing and slicing gives a snapshot of life inside cells.
February 19, 2008

Scientists can now see how proteins organize and interact, thanks to the tech­nology that created this image of skin tissue. The technique reveals the structure of proteins and the relationships among them in unprece­dented detail, providing information that’s vital for understanding disease and cell functions. “When you see the proteins, you immediately also see … how they interact in an undisturbed environment,” says Achilleas Frangakis, the biologist who led the research at the European Molecular ­Biology Laboratory in ­Heidelberg, Germany. “At this resolution, the cell is essentially an uncharted terri­tory.”

This 3-D reconstruction reveals details such as the nucleus (blue) and mitochondria (purple) of a skin cell, as well as hairlike proteins (brown, at bottom) that link cells to each other.

The research group froze cells to -193 ºC by plunging them into liquid nitrogen, sliced them into 50-nanometer­-thick sections, and illuminated the slices with a beam of electrons. Software refined the resulting electron tomography images into virtual slices that were even thinner–as little as half a nanometer thick. Combinations of such slices enable 3-D viewing, too.

The imaging technique, called cryo-­electron tomography, had previously been used on smaller, simpler cells, such as bacteria. But coupled with the slicing technique, cryosectioning, it can work on almost any cell and is “truly a first,” says Grant Jensen, a biologist at Caltech who specializes in cryo-electron tomography.

Keep Reading

Most Popular

A Roomba recorded a woman on the toilet. How did screenshots end up on Facebook?

Robot vacuum companies say your images are safe, but a sprawling global supply chain for data from our devices creates risk.

A startup says it’s begun releasing particles into the atmosphere, in an effort to tweak the climate

Make Sunsets is already attempting to earn revenue for geoengineering, a move likely to provoke widespread criticism.

10 Breakthrough Technologies 2023

Every year, we pick the 10 technologies that matter the most right now. We look for advances that will have a big impact on our lives and break down why they matter.

These exclusive satellite images show that Saudi Arabia’s sci-fi megacity is well underway

Weirdly, any recent work on The Line doesn’t show up on Google Maps. But we got the images anyway.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.