An interdisciplinary research team comprising members of the Department of Biochemistry and School of Chemistry have obtained funding from the Wellcome Trust to set up a Total Internal Reflection Fluorescence (TIRF) microscope in the Medical School. The design of the instrument will make it a unique resource in the UK. The team led by Drs Mark Dillingham (Biochemistry) and Andrew Hudson (Chemistry), and also comprising Dr David Stephens (Biochemistry), Dr Mark Szczelkun (Biochemistry), Prof Dek Woolfson (Chemistry and Biochemistry) and Dr Justin Molloy (National Institute for Medical Research, London) will use the technique to observe biological processes one molecule at a time.
Traditional biochemical approaches often rely on using indirect assays to study mixtures containing many billions of molecules. The assumption that all those molecules act in exactly the same way is often not correct. TIRF allows biochemical processes to be examined at the level of individual molecules rather than en masse – new events previously hidden amongst the many can be seen by looking at the few. The example image shows the assembly of individual protein molecules onto DNA taken using similar instrumentation at the National Institute for Medical Research (image courtesy of Natali Fili, Mark Dillingham and Justin Molloy). Dr Szczelkun has also recently acquired funds from the Wellcome Trust to purchase a “magnetic tweezers” microscope. This equipment can not only measure the activity of single biological molecules, it can also manipulate those molecules by applying force on the picoNewton scale (equivalent to the weight of a red blood cell). By examining the effect of force on a biological process, previously unattainable details of the mechanism can be revealed. Together these items of equipment will give Bristol a significant competitive edge in the flourishing area of single molecule biology.
Prof George Banting (Head of the Department of Biochemistry) and Prof Tim Gallagher (Head of the School of Chemistry) said “These awards not only reflect the Biochemistry Department’s strengths and innovation in mechanistic biochemistry and imaging techniques, but also the importance of the strong and productive collaborative links that exist between the Department of Biochemistry and the School of Chemistry”.