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Glimpses into the Nanocosmos of Cells

Cryoelectron microscopy at Charité and Freie Universität Berlin receives 5.7 million euros

News from Oct 20, 2017

The German Research Foundation (DFG) has approved a grant of 5.7 million euros as an application package for two new cryogenic transmission electron microscopes (cryo-TEMs) and two additional devices for Freie Universität Berlin and Charité-Universitätsmedizin Berlin. The total investment runs to 11.4 million euros, with the Senate of Berlin, Freie Universität, and Charité contributing the remainder.

Almost all biochemical processes in living cells are governed by a complex molecular apparatus composed of numerous proteins or proteins and ribonucleic acids. Knowledge of their atomic structures provides the basis not only for understanding and controlling these cellular functional units, but also for the development of active substances for the treatment of a host of human illnesses. Driven by spectacular advances in the technology, cryoelectron microscopy (cryo-EM) has in recent years emerged as one of the most effective tools for revealing the structures of natural and synthetic macromolecules and molecular complexes in atomic detail. Today, cryo-EM allows us not only to describe the structure of biomolecules and their complexes in isolation, but even to observe them in their natural cellular surroundings. This means that fundamentally new insights into the nanocosmos of cells are now possible. Three researchers who have been instrumental in developing the technology were recently awarded this year’s Nobel Prize in chemistry.