Confocal Microscopy Facility

Lead Research Organisation: University of Cambridge


The development of the first practical confocal laser scanning microscope in the 1980's was a major advance in optical microscopy. These microscopes allow researchers to obtain optical sections from intact specimens up to a depth of several hundred microns, and are now widely used in plant biology for the visualisation of biological processes and ultrastructure in intact and living plant tissues. A successful JREI application in 1998 led to the installation of an early generation confocal microscope in the Department of Plant Sciences in the University of Cambridge. As a result, plant researchers here have contributed heavily to the early development and application of confocal imaging techniques. Our existing facilities need upgrading in order to maintain our lead in the development of new fluorescent proteins, transgenic marker lines in Arabidopsis, algal and crop systems, new microtechniques for 3D imaging, software for image segmentation, visualisation and quantitation, and the application of advanced optical techniques to the analysis of cell, protein and metabolite dynamics in a wide variety of algal and plant systems.

Technical Summary

Our existing equipment for laser scanning confocal microscopy will have been heavily used for almost ten years by the time of the earliest opportunity for its replacement, and is already suffering from increased unreliability, failure of major components and high cost of maintenance. Upgraded equipment is required urgently to maintain our development of novel fluorescent reagents, new microtechniques, software methods and application of quantitative 3D and timelapse imaging of cell, protein and metabolite dynamics in a wide variety of algal and plant systems. Applications of these techniques include: (i) protein-RNA dynamics in epigenetic control of gene expression, (ii) direct visualisation of cell cycle control in living plants, (iii) 3D visualisation of cell architecture and interactions during plant morphogenesis, (iv) quantitative imaging of hydrodynamics and plant cell membrane biophysics, (v) plastid dynamics during chloroplast biogenesis, (vi) localisation of photosynthetic components in plastids, (vii) identification of subcellular domains and molecular interactions critical to C4 photosynthesis, (viii) imaging of interactions and compartmentation within metabolism, (ix) quantitation of calcium dynamics during plant cell growth, (x) analysis of the circadian clock in plants, (xi) in vivo markers for plant-virus interactions, and (xii) quantitative analysis of cell architecture and scaling in plant populations.


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Description Modern biology has adopted quantitative and qualitative imaging for analysis of biological systems. The confocal facility has allowed us to develop new imaging approaches in a wide variety of species - bacteria, algae and plants.
Exploitation Route Technical information has been distributed by conventional scientific publication and web based resources.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology

Description The confocal microscopy facility has been used to produce images that have been widely disseminated for public outreach and artistic use. Examples can be seen at: Such images have been widely used for education and illustration in print and video media.
First Year Of Impact 2008
Sector Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal