Singles club for scientists
Press release issued: 15 August 2007
Single molecule biologists get ahead of the game this week as grants of over £200,000 bring state-of-the-art microscopes to the University of Bristol.
Highly sophisticated in design and rarely available in UK institutions, this new equipment has the potential to revolutionise the University’s research opportunities in the intricate science of manipulating single molecules.
One of the main aims of single molecule biology is the mapping of individual molecules in biological processes. Researchers can now explore previously unavailable avenues in their research methods with a view to better understanding the role each molecule plays within the organism being examined.
Traditional biochemical approaches often rely on using indirect methods to study mixtures containing many billions of molecules. The assumption that all these molecules act in exactly the same way is often not correct.
One of the new microscopes, the Total Internal Reflection Fluorescence microscope, (TIRF), will allow biochemical processes to be examined at the level of individual molecules rather than en masse, revealing new events that were previously hidden. For example, the arrangement of individual proteins can be observed on pieces of DNA.
The new ‘Magnetic tweezer’ microscope has the added benefit of allowing the experimenter to manipulate single molecules by applying very small forces (roughly equivalent to the weight of a red blood cell) to their samples, revealing otherwise unobtainable reaction details.
Without this technology, scientists have to make do with only getting a general overview of the molecules in a given sample, making the roles of individual molecules virtually impossible to confirm.
Teams from the Departments of Biochemistry and Chemistry joined forces to win the funding from the Wellcome Trust. Professors George Banting, Head of Biochemistry, and Tim Gallagher, Head of Chemistry, praised the acquisition, saying in a joint statement: “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”.