Seeing Inside Cells
To understand how a cell works at the molecular level, you need to be able to see the 3D structures inside it. One way to do this is through electron cryomicroscopy (cryo-EM), a new method that has the potential to revolutionize biology. Dr. John Rubinstein, Canada Research Chair in Electron Cryomicroscopy, is a pioneer in this exciting new field.
Because it relies on freezing, cryo-EM offers unique advantages over other approaches to microscopy. For example, conventional optical microscopy uses light and lenses to create an image, while electron microscopy uses a beam of electrons. For electron microscopy to work, the sample must be prepared properly, often by staining it with heavy metals or fixing it with chemicals, altering the sample somewhat from its original state.
But in cryo-EM, the sample is frozen, allowing it to be seen in a state much closer to its native one. As a result, cryo-EM lets scientists analyze things that were previously impossible to study.
Rubinstein and his research team are developing cryo-EM tools and using them to understand a type of enzyme called rotary ATPases. These enzymes supply energy to cells and control the acidity of certain compartments within them.
As well as developing tools that will be useful to the entire structural biology community, Rubinstein’s investigation into ATPases may enable us to target them in treating certain diseases, including cancer and osteoporosis.