A facility for 3D cellular imaging that bridges light and electron microscopy

Lead Research Organisation: University of Warwick
Department Name: School of Life Sciences


In biology, seeing is believing. To find out what is happening inside cells, biologists use microscopes. This equipment comes in different varieties. The two main microscopes biologists use are light microscopes and electron microscopes. With light microscopes, we can image living cells and watch many different proteins going about their job. Using electron microscopes, we can image much smaller things, however, we can only look at fixed (dead) cells and also seeing proteins is difficult. This money from the BBSRC will help us to buy two of the very latest microscopes. We will put these microscopes together with other machines to make it possible for scientists to see living cells and proteins and then see the same cell and the same proteins in the electron microscope. The special thing about these new microscopes is that they can take pictures and movies in 3D, so we can get all the information out of the cells that we are looking at. The equipment will be based at University of Warwick. We have lots of biologists at our University who need these instruments to carry out important research on bacteria, plants and animals, to understand neuroscience, cell division and plant signalling - to name just a few. We will open up the equipment so that other scientists based in the Midlands or even further afield can use it. These scientists may be Biologists or they may be Materials Scientists or Chemists working in Universities or in Industry.

Technical Summary

Understanding fundamental processes such as cell division, protein trafficking, synaptic function, and embryo development requires that the fine structure of cells and tissues be imaged in three dimensions and at the highest possible spatiotemporal resolution. Light microscopy (LM) and electron microscopy (EM) are key tools for this and the development of correlative light and electron microscopy (CLEM) approaches has capitalised on the advantages of each technique to allow high resolution imaging of cells at specific stages in their functional cycle. Recent advances in EM and LM hardware bring capabilities that are urgently needed by many scientists at Warwick, within the Midlands and further afield. Our proposal is for LM and EM hardware with which to establish a 3D Cellular Imaging Facility at Warwick. This facility will bridge optical and electron microscopy and provide high resolution 3D bioimaging using both techniques. Users can access the entire 'bridge' workflow, or access experiment-specific subsets of the full workflow. To form the 3D Cellular Imaging Facility, we request funds to purchase: 1) a high-performance TEM with a field emission energy source, direct detection, energy filter and electron tomography capability and 2) a diSPIM light sheet microscope for fast 3D imaging and imaging of thick specimens. This new equipment will allow scientists to obtain 3D images of samples using light and electron microscopy. Light sheet reconstructions of dynamic cells with equivalent spatial resolution in all three dimensions can be combined with 3D electron microscopy imaging using tomography at greatly improved levels of sensitivity to achieve unprecedented accuracy in the correlation of dynamic cell processes with the underlying ultrastructure. The need for this resource is driven by demand from a number of existing BBSRC-funded labs and others at Warwick who urgently need to access this cutting-edge high-resolution capability.

Planned Impact

The impact of the new facility will be to fuel several BBSRC Research Priorities. For example, Technology development for the biosciences (Royle, Smith), Data-driven biology (McAinsh) and Sustainably enhancing agricultural production (Cross, Frigerio). In Warwick, we have strong representation in Synthetic biology and Systems approaches to the biosciences, these groups will be able to access the equipment. More broadly, the equipment will Build Partnerships by driving collaborative research with users (see Work Plan) and International and Industrial Partnerships.

The facility will impact upon ACADEMIC SCIENTISTS who will use the new imaging facility to gain high resolution 3D information on samples from a wide range organisms and alter their own research and development activities in light of this. They will be able to achieve unprecedented accuracy in the correlation of dynamic cell processes with the underlying ultrastructure which will contribute to our understanding of cellular mechanisms in projects spanning plant biology, mammalian cell biology and model organisms. The multi-disciplinary environment creased by the facility will further knowledge exchange and learning via the user group meetings.

The insights we uncover will be published in journals of the highest possible calibre, thus sustaining the reputation of the UK as a world leader in scientific enquiry. All investigators on the application have fantastic track records in this regard. Learned bodies, such as the Royal Microscopical Society, Biochemical Society and the British Society for Cell Biology will benefit because they will be able to communicate this work to the wider scientific community and the public through their public engagement activities.

The EARLY CAREER RESEARCHERS using the facility will benefit from the high level imaging skills in both light and electron microscopy they will gain and multidisciplinary interactions with other users. These skills will transfer into their future careers in whatever sector they work. 'UK plc.' will benefit from such well-trained cross-disciplinary scientists who will be suited to many avenues of research.

INDUSTRIAL SCIENTISTS who are interested in how cellular processes are carried out and who are interested in the structure of nanoparticles, pharmaceuticals and agrochemicals will benefit from the new high resolution imaging facility.

Academics and early career researchers will continue their programme of SCIENCE COMMUNICATION WITH THE GENERAL PUBLIC, engaging with local schools, local and national media, science fairs, IGGY (International Gateway for Gifted Youth), MoleClues, open days etc. thus benefiting the level of education and of science debate outside academia as well as within. Encouraging scientists to take part in such activities early in their careers will establish habits and expertise for benefitting the general public that will stay with them for their careers. This impact will be immediate as well as over the next few decades.


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Description This award was used to establish a Research Technology Platform at the University of Warwick for Advanced BioImaging. This facility allows us to do 3D electron microscopy, 3D live cell imaging and correlative-light electron microscopy.
Exploitation Route We have officially opened the facility and our first few samples have been imaged by EM and light sheet microscopy. We have a five year plan to grow the facility and to expand our user-base.
Sectors Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology

URL http://www.warwick.ac.uk/bioimaging
Description The equipment allowed us to establish the Research technology Platform in Advanced Bioimaging. As well as academic research we provide imaging services for biotech partners, e.g. imaging drug-delivery systems in tumours.
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology
Impact Types Economic

Description Training, impact and engagement activities - Research Technology Platform in Advanced BioImaging 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Dr Saskia Bakker from the facility has participated in the following events. These events are aimed at increasing the impact of the RTP.
• RTP Industry days, March 2018
• CCP-EM, Keele, April 2018
• Midlands Cryo-EM consortium roadshows in Leicester, Warwick, Birmingham and Nottingham, May/June 2018
• EMAG meeting, July 2018
• CryoEM lecture at Biochemical Society Workshop, Aston - August 2018
• AstraZeneca/MAS CDT project student - Summer 2018
• SMIC Opening Symposium, Glasgow, September 2018
• Leicester Cryo-EM Workshop, October 2018
• Public Science Evening, 'Close encounters of the 3D kind' Warwick, October 2018
• Cryomicroscopy Group meeting - Nottingham, November 2018
• MIBTP masterclass - November 2018
• MAS DTC - Lectures for CH922 and lab tours
• EM-UK meeting with Royal Microscopy Society - January 2019
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018