First holographic image of single protein created (and why that's cool)

There's an old saying that sometimes, the person you know least is yourself. And this is certainly true when it comes to the proteins that build the human body, as scientists know the shape of less than two percent of them. Fear not, some researchers have finally found a non-destructive method for imaging single proteins (and did so, with ferritin).

We're presuming at this point most reactions involved dropped jaws and edge-of-your-seat excitement. Which they probably should, because in the past the only way to image proteins effectively was either using an x-ray or an electron beam, which destroys biomolecules. This means we have no idea if the images are accurate. Also, there's no way to view them over a span of time.

So some researchers at the University of Zurich upheld the philosophy that sometimes the simplest solution is the best one and decided to use a low-energy electron beams, which do a good job not destroying biomolecules (and, side note, have been used recently in the art world too!).

Beams like this are good not for imaging, which is what has been attempted in the past, but for holography. Think Star Wars.

So the researcher created an electron hologram of ferritin, a protein that stores and releases iron in the human body (and in most living things). In their words, "We have reported the very first non-destructive investigation of an individual protein by means of low-energy electron holography."

Using this, thus far they've been able to determine the damage done to proteins using the old method. And they'll be able to more accurately study and map out proteins in the human body.

It was easy to do as well: scientists just mixed ferritin and carbon nanotubes in water, then allowed the water to evaporate, leaving the nanotubes with single ferritin molecules bonded to them. Granted, I couldn't do this in my bathroom, but in the realm of science, this is considered "easy."

Since it is so "easy" to do, many more proteins will probably soon be studied. Who knows where this will lead, but more research is always a positive.

Via Technology Review

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