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NTU Boosts Research with Launch of State-of-the-Art Electron Microscopy Lab

Fri, 10/25/2013 - 10:10am
Nanyang Technological University

Prof Daniela Rhodes with the most advanced microscope from FEI, housed at NTU's new CryoEM LabNanyang Technological University (NTU) has launched a new electron microscopy lab led by world renowned scientist Professor Daniela Rhodes. Named the NTU Cryo-Electron Microscopy Laboratory, it is also the world’s first university research facility to be equipped with an advanced cryo transmission electron microscope fitted with the latest detector/camera ten times more sensitive than a regular electron microscopy camera.

The new microscope, the Tecnai Arctica, is developed by FEI, a world leading manufacturer of cryo electron microscopes. It will allow high-resolution 3D imaging of molecular structures half a million times smaller than a grain of rice (10 nanometres).

With this, NTU scientists will now be able to image structures of biologically and medically important enzymes and macro-molecular complexes much faster and with greater accuracy than previously possible. This paves the way for a more detailed understanding of important biological processes in human health and disease.

Cryo-electron microscopy (CryoEM) is a technique of imaging biological samples in a frozen but unchanged state, and is advantageous because it can capture single particles of protein, cells and tissue sections, as well as the chromosomes and viruses inside cells.

The NTU Cryo-EM lab will also be equipped with Singapore’s first integrated light microscope for correlative light and electron microscopy imaging for cell biology applications. Together, these state-of-the-art microscopes will support both research and teaching at NTU’s School of Biological Sciences and the university’s new medical school.

Professor Bertil Andersson, President of NTU, said: “With today’s launch, NTU now has a formidable life sciences cluster comprising the NTU Cryo-Electron Microscopy Laboratory, the Singapore Centre on Environmental Life Sciences Engineering, the School of Biological Sciences and the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine.

Prof Andersson is delighted that FEI had chosen NTU as the first place in the world to install their newly developed electron microscope.

“With these top-of-the-line electron microscopes, we are in a very good position to push the frontiers of biomedical science and medicine, and to yield breakthroughs including in the areas of cancer biology and aging,” Prof Andersson said.

“With a world-class facility, we also need world-class scientists, and at NTU we have some of the top names in electron microscopy, who will be able to use the new microscopes to their fullest potential and develop innovative bio-imaging techniques for cutting-edge research. Seeing is believing, in life and in Science.”

One of the key research groups utilising this new facility is led by Professor Daniela Rhodes, a world-renowned structural biologist who carved out her career in the famous MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, in Cambridge, UK, under the guidance of Nobel Prize winner Aaron Klug.

Prof Rhodes’ research group will be looking into cancer development and ageing -- specifically at telomeres which are the structures that cap the ends of chromosomes. They will also study the structure and function of the telomerase, a key enzyme repairs telomeres, thus allowing the chromosomes and cells to replicate themselves infinitely, which is a hallmark of cancer.

Prof Rhodes’ research in cancer biology and aging has successfully received a S$24 million Tier 3 grant from the Ministry of Education recently.

The structural biologist, said that fundamental research has time and time again proven to greatly benefit human health, and she is excited to continue pushing the frontiers of structural biology with the new CryoEM Lab, as it will greatly aid the Tier 3 project, which involves eight scientists from various disciplines of science.

“Structural biology is the most important approach for providing detailed information on the workings of enzymes, whose mis-regulation leads to human diseases. Throughout history, many Nobel Prizes in Chemistry and Medicine have been awarded to discoveries in structural biology.

“It is our hope that with such powerful instruments, we can make new discoveries. Only by understanding the inner workings of proteins and enzymes related to aging and cancer, can we start to look for and to develop solutions to treat such conditions,” said Prof Rhodes who had worked alongside several Nobel Prize winners during her 42 years at Cambridge University’s MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology.

Professor Rhodes also lectures at both NTU’s School of Biological Sciences and the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine.

“I love my work as it allows me to interact with many young people with the brightest minds every day. Research and teaching are very fulfilling,” she said.

Also working in the new CryoEM lab are Assistant Professors Sara Sandin and Shashi Bhushan, both experts in CryoEM as well as in correlative light imaging, a new technique to image proteins inside cells using probes that are both fluorescent and electron dense.

For more information visit www.ntu.edu.sg.

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