From imaging service to structure dermination of macromolecular protein complexes

The microscopy and cryo-electron microscopy service group now combines the former microscopy group headed by Dr. Rudi Lurz from 1978 until his retirement in 2012 and the cryo-electron microscopy group which was installed in 2004 within the framework of Berlin-Brandenburg-wide research consortia “UltraStructure Network” (USN) and “Anwenderzentrum” (AWZ). Our group provides a broad range of imaging techniques for all departments and OWL research groups of the institute.

Our lab has established a wide range of transmission electron microscopy (TEM) methods such as ultra-thin sectioning of plastic-embedded samples, immune-labelling of sections or isolated structures as well as visualization of nucleic acids and nucleic acid-protein complexes using metal-shadowing technics. For imaging ultra-thin sections, we routinely use Leginon for automated data collection. We further provide a technology platform for cryo-electron microscopy including sample screening, semi-automated sample vitrification, data acquisition as well as computing resources for image processing with a strong focus on structure determination of macromolecular protein complexes using single particle methods. Single particle cryo-EM has emerged as a key technology in structural biology, and ground-breaking technological progress has been made in recent years to reach near-atomic resolution. After establishing our cryo-EM facility within the “UltraStructure Network”, our successful cryo-EM activities are now well-embedded within the Berlin research landscape contributing e.g. the central service project Z1 to the collaborative research centre SFB740 and joined activities within the NeuroCure cluster of excellence and the SFB958.

Due to the continually increasing demands on light-microscopic techniques in the institute, the former microscopy group took over the responsibility for technical service, maintenance and training of an increasing number of users and light microscopes (mainly fluorescence microscopes), which are operated as shared equipment and which are accessible for all members of the institute. The joined microscopy and cryo-electron microscopy group now continues these service activities and supports all users according to their specific biological questions. Besides routine service, we also aim at implementing new technologies and applications such as e.g. life-cell imaging and lightsheet microscopy. Our own research focus lies on the implementation of correlative microscopy techniques in order to exploit the potential of both, light and electron microscopy.

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