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New Minflux microscope improves molecule tracking in live cells

BY Ananya Sen

Over the past century, our understanding of cells—the basic building blocks of living organisms—has progressed largely due to microscopes. The invention of fluorescence microscopy has been a primary tool in this scientific endeavor because it allows researchers to color-label specific cellular components and observe them in live cells. The new two-color 3-D Minflux microscope is a vast improvement on traditional fluorescence microscopy because, for the first time, researchers can track how two molecules can interact with each other on the size scale of the molecules themselves.

IGB researchers use the Miniflux microscope, which is housed at the IGB.
Researchers use the Miniflux microscope, which is housed at the IGB

“The Minflux microscope will provide 100 times better resolution than typical confocal microscopes and ten times better resolution than many single molecule localization images,” said Glenn Fried, the Director of Core Facilities at the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology.

Developed by the Nobel Laureate Stefan Hell, the microscope can quickly detect how molecules interact with each other in a three-dimensional cellular environment. For example, RNA-protein interactions can now be easily monitored by first labeling them with two different fluorescent dyes and then imaging the two structures at the same time.

The importance of this break-through technology inspired ten campus units at the University of Illinois to band together and provide $740,000 in funds for a base 2-D Miniflux microscope in 2021. The subsequent upgrade to the complete two-color 3-D Miniflux system was made possible with a $604,000 fund from the Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust. The microscope will be the third of its kind in the United States, the other two being at the National Institutes of Health, Maryland and Scripps Research Institute, California.

Housed in the IGB, the complete Minflux instrument will act as a regional research hub as well as a demonstration site for other users, finally moving the bar of ‘single molecule’ tracking to be able to look at biomolecular interactions.

“We are ideally located to become the go-to place for single particle tracking in the Midwest, while putting our biophysics and cell biology groups at the forefront of in-cell dynamics research,” said Martin Gruebele, a James R. Eiszner Endowed Chair in Chemistry, who worked on the Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust grant along with Fried and Zaida Luthey-Schulten (BCXT), a Murchison-Mallory Endowed Chair in Chemistry.

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