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Living Bacteria Captured by X-Ray

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cyanobacteriaFor the first time, living bacteria have been captured by X-ray, researchers report.

Researchers from Uppsala University are working at the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, Menlo Park, Calif, which is operated by Stanford University.
This discovery, which offers a fresh way to view active biological samples, could lead to X-ray forays into mechanisms integral to biology, health, and nature, involving molecular apparatus of cell division, viral infections, photosynthesis, and more.

“We have developed a unique way to rapidly explore, sort and analyze samples, with the possibility of reaching higher resolutions than other study methods,” says Janos Hajdu, PhD, professor of biophysics, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden, which led the research. “This could eventually be a complete game-changer.”

The study centered on cyanobacteria (blue-green algae), a plentiful form of bacteria that changed the Earth’s atmosphere billions of years ago, paving the way for new forms of life that now prevail.

The method, which grabs some 100 images each second and can add up to millions of high-resolution images each day, can allow scientists to examine the inner structure and action of biological particles on a monumental scale. “You can study the full cycle of cellular processes, with each X-ray pulse providing a snapshot of the process you want to study,” says Tomas Ekeberg, PhD, biophysicist, Uppsala University.

“One can start to analyze differences and similarities between groups of cellular structures and show how these structures interact,” Hajdu says. “What is in the cell? How is it organized? Who is talking to whom?” The researchers have detected signals from features as small as 4 nanometers, or 4 billionths of a meter. Click here to view a video: bit.ly/1voelDR

An article titled “Imaging single cells in a beam of live cyanobacteria with an X-ray laser,” in the February 11 issue of Nature Communications, discusses the findings. Click here to learn more: bit.ly/1B3oywN

Image: cyanobacteria
This photo illustration shows a pond containing a visible bloom of cyanobacteria, with an artistic rendering of an individual cell, circled at left, and a reconstructed image of a single cell, circled at right, based on data from an experiment at SLAC’s LCLS X-ray laser. (Image credit: SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory)

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