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Every cell in your body is enclosed by a cell membrane, a lipid bilayer that separates the cell's contents from its surroundings. Residing within the cell membrane itself, molecules move around like ballet dancers on a stage.
In the words of Professor Akihiro Kusumi, leader of the Membrane Cooperativity Unit at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST), "The proteins in the cell membrane undergo elegantly coordinated dances to relay messages between the cell and its environment."
Order - Proteins - Membrane - Prof - Kusumi
In order to understand how these proteins move within the membrane and how they interact with each other, Prof. Kusumi and other researchers developed an imaging method for live cells called live-cell single fluorescent-molecule imaging (SFMI). In SFMI, each protein 'dancer' in the membrane is individually tagged with fluorescent markers to make them visible under special home-built fluorescence microscopes.
However, SFMI can be problematic: -- over time under the microscope, fluorescent markers lose their glow -- a process known as 'photobleaching'. Because of this, until now, cell biologists have been unable to observe individual molecules for longer than about ten seconds at a time. "It was like randomly taking many 10-second long clips, and trying to connect them in the correct order to produce a movie lasting for 5 minutes," says Mr Taka-aki Tsunoyama, a researcher from the Membrane Cooperativity Unit at OIST.
Paper - Nature - Chemical - Biology - Tsunoyama
In a paper recently published in Nature Chemical Biology, Tsunoyama, Kusumi, and their colleagues reported that they have come up with a twist on SFMI that suppresses photobleaching. Their method involves including a unique combination of chemicals and molecular oxygen in the specimen.
Previous methods used to prevent photobleaching were not very effective, and in addition, they were usually toxic to living cells, like totally removing molecular oxygen. However, the OIST researchers placed the cells in an environment with low oxygen concentrations,...
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