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New Electron Microscopy Approaches for Studying Protein Complexes and Cellular Supramolecular Architecture

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Visualising biological complexity

Description of whole cells and organelles in terms of their molecules may soon become routine thanks to advances in three-dimensional (3D) electron microscopy. Integration of leading European laboratories in the field promises to initiate the most comprehensive structural analysis of cells and their proteins.


The 'New electron microscopy approaches for studying protein complexes and cellular supramolecular architecture' (3D-EM) project focused on bringing together structural analysis experts to foster collaboration in research and dissemination of best practice methods through extensive training programmes. Moreover, 3D-EM worked towards a platform for the development of tools and software as well as a joint data resource with the necessary standardisation for data formats. 3D-EM tackled state-of-the-art particle and molecular structural analysis with the emphasis firmly on proteins, the cell's molecular labourers and basic structural components. Characterisation of protein structure by single particle analysis (SPA) focused on an investigation of the components of a heterogeneous mixture. In the area of cryogenics and imaging by sectioning, project researchers worked to enhance technology and software in cryo-electron tomography (CET). In particular, a software package Tomography (TOM) toolbox was developed to interpret CET data used to reconstruct a 3D image from tilted 2D sections. The consortium also ploughed their efforts into another alternative for the determination of molecular structures, especially membrane proteins – electron crystallography. 3D-EM developed a software platform, image processing library and toolbox (IPLT) for analysis of images from electron crystallography. After use in laboratories, IPLT can now be downloaded from the Internet. 3D-EM research has helped to elevate Europe to a top position in 3D electron microscopy analysis. The project team included experts in academic and applied research and the presence of international leaders in manufacture has helped translation of research excellence into industrial application.

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