Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Rewriting Life

Capturing Protein Interactions

Freezing and slicing gives a snapshot of life inside cells.

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.

This story is part of our March/April 2008 Issue
See the rest of the issue
Subscribe

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.

Become an MIT Technology Review Insider for in-depth analysis and unparalleled perspective.

Subscribe today
More from Rewriting Life

Reprogramming our bodies to make us healthier.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe and become an Insider.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}* Best Value

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus the digital magazine, extensive archive, ad-free web experience, and discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

    Bimonthly print magazine (6 issues per year)

    Bimonthly digital/PDF edition

    Access to the magazine PDF archive—thousands of articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips

    Special interest publications

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Special discounts to select partner offerings

    Ad-free web experience

  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning print magazine, unlimited online access plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

    Bimonthly print magazine (6 issues per year)

  • Insider Online Only {! insider.prices.online !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Unlimited online access including articles and video, plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

/3
You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.