Jessica Whited studies the genetics behind how salamanders grow severed limbs
By Eleanor Hasenbeck | Bond LSC
It takes about two months for an axolotl to regenerate a lost limb. Humans, as you probably know, don’t regenerate limbs.
But, a basic understanding of how the Mexican salamander regrows limbs advance regenerative medicine in humans according to Jessica Whited, a researcher at Brigham Women’s Hospital and assistant professor at Harvard Medical School.
Whited will speak at 3:30 p.m., Thursday April 13, in Monsanto Auditorium as part of Missouri Life Sciences Week at Bond Life Science Center. Her lecture, “Identifying roadblocks to regeneration in axolotl salamanders” will present the lab’s discoveries and evidence that a specific gene in axolotls can block the animal’s ability to regenerate.
Whited’s lab found axolotls can exhaust their ability to regenerate. When a limb is severed repeatedly, the salamander stops producing blastemas, the mass of cells capable of regeneration that allow the limb to grow back. This could be due to a dysregulated gene blocking the animal’s ability to produce them.
The Whited Lab sequenced the mRNA in axolotls that could regenerate limbs and that could no longer regenerate. They found 912 genes that differed between the two groups. Whited will discuss one of these genes, which her lab considers a potential inhibitor to regeneration.
“It’s much more common for people to think “Oh, what are the things that promote limb regeneration?’ than it is to think about the things that we might have to block to make it happen,” Whited said. “This project has the potential to uncover the roadblocks, which could turn out to be equally critical.”
An MU alumna, Whited received the National Institutes of Health New Innovator Award in 2015 for her work with this unique regenerative salamander. She earned a PhD in biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and two undergraduate degrees in biological sciences and philosophy at MU.
Whited attended MU as a Bright Flight and Curator’s Scholar. And though it happened nearly 20 years ago, she said receiving those two scholarships were among the most important things that happened in her career. As a high school student, she knew she would go to college, but financially, she didn’t know how it would happen. She also credits her education and undergraduate research experience at MU for preparing her to think at the research bench.
“You have to get an undergraduate education, and it totally prepared me even for graduate school at MIT, which is one of the top programs in the world, in many subjects, but in biology especially,” Whited said. “The idea that you could find a career where you’re using your brain as your primary asset, I figured that out while I was at the University of Missouri, because there were people, our professors, doing that.”
Whited’s lecture is free and open to the public as part of Missouri Life Sciences Week. It occurs at 3:30 on Thursday, April 13 in Bond LSC’s Monsanto Auditorium. See more about events during the week at bondlsc.missouri.edu/life-sciences-week.
Nick Dietz was not certain where to start his research journey this time last year.
But the atmosphere during a recruitment weekend nearly a year ago convinced him to pick MU over three other offers of admission. He is now a first-year plant sciences Ph.D. graduate student and life sciences fellow at MU.
“It is crucially important for [prospective] graduate students to feel they are going to feel like home, and Mizzou just knocked out that part with the recruitment weekend,” said Dietz.
The Graduate Life Sciences Joint Recruitment Weekend, an annual event since 2010, builds a two-way street between MU faculties and prospective graduate students and helps them to determine whether MU is the place for them to continue their education.
This year, about 35 prospective students with different academic backgrounds participated in the recruitment event.
“Up to this point, the departments only know these [prospective] students on paper,” said Debbie Allen, coordinator of Graduate Initiatives. “But this is an chance for the faculty and staff to meet them in person to get a feel that whether they are going to be a good fit for our program.”
Conversely, the prospective students also gain deeper understanding of MU via tours around the campus and the laboratories, one-on-one interviews with potential advisors and interdisciplinary poster sessions. The event combines recruiting efforts from the division of Biochemistry, Plant Sciences, Molecular Pathogenesis and Therapeutics graduate program, Genetics Area program, MU Information Institute, the Interdisciplinary Plant Group and Life Sciences Fellowship Program.
More than 100 faculty, graduate students and post-doctoral fellows joined the recruitment weekend. They play a valuable role in interacting with the prospective students, as they are the ones who are in the midst of MU life.
Dietz joined that effort as a student ambassador. He toured Matthew Murphy, an Illinois College graduate, around the campus and shuttled him to different interviews.
Murphy drove from St. Louis for the recruitment weekend. With a major in biology and a minor in mathematics, he wishes to submerge himself into plant sciences.
During his gap year at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center after graduation, Murphy learned about the division of Plant Sciences, which is one of the MU’s strongest programs. That eventually got him pumped up to apply for MU.
The recruitment weekend energized him further.
“Every graduate student I have talked to is really helpful and honest,” said Murphy. “They are all saying… how thankful they are to pick Mizzou.”
Lloyd Sumner, an MU professor of biochemistry, is expecting new students to join his lab. He had lunch and one-on-one meetings with the 11 prospective students invited by the biochemistry department, and toured them around his lab to showcase the instrumental resources.
“These are educated young adults with often very grand ideas. It is inspiring to visit with them and to be part of their future goals and careers,” Sumner said.
After six months rotating between different labs, Dietz has not yet decided which research route he will take yet. Nevertheless, he remains certain of one thing: he is enjoying the life here.
“It is a really warm atmosphere,” said Dietz. “I don’t feel I am being used as a labor. Professors actually want me to do well and get a good education.”
MU Center for Agroforestry symposium talks medicinal plants
By Jinghong Chen | Bond LSC
Researchers, landowners and entrepreneurs converged at Bond Life Sciences Center to discuss current developments and topics in medicinal plants and agroforestry at the eighth UMCA Agroforestry Symposium. This daylong annual event, hosted by the Center for Agroforestry, took place on Thursday, Jan. 26.
People have been using medicinal plants as natural remedies and medicines for thousands of years all over the world. The global market of medicinal plants industry is huge.
“It is going to approach nearly $115 billion by 2020,” said Dr. Shibu Jose, director of MU Center for Agroforestry.
The university practices research projects on how to grow medicinal plants in a sustainable manner and how to harvest and process them, according to Dr. Jose.
Tim Newmark of the American Botanical Council said climate change and the loss of soil are two main threats to herb plants. His keynote speech is on how to use regenerative practices in medicinal plants and agroforestry to positively impact the environment. A recent White House report wrote that without cooperated actions, the United of States will run out of the topsoil by the end of this century.
“We are eating our environment,” said Newmark.
Four main destructive forces leading to the dramatic loss of soil are excessive tilling, monoculture, synthetic nitrogen fertilization and pesticides.
Newmark did a side-by-side test in his farm in Costa Rica during the worst drought in the country. He implanted cassava in two fields under identical conditions and applied the best practice of conventional agrochemical agriculture and regenerative practice, respectively.
When the drought happened with six weeks of no rain in the rainforest, only the crop in conventional field was a complete failure.
Newmark said the next trend in the plants industry is agriculture focusing on regenerative plant soil.
Seven other speakers also presented on medicinal plants and included:
Dr. Jim Chamberlain, from US Forest Service, on forest management and medicinal plants
Dr. Susan Leopold, from United Plant Savers, on the conservation of medicinal plants
Dr. Jed W. Fahey, from Johns Hopkins University, on researches on moringa oleifera
Dr. Lloyd Sumner, from the University of Missouri, on the metabolomics opportunities and application in pecan
Dr. Chung-Ho Lin, from the University of Missouri, on how to identify value-added compounds from waste plant materials
Dr. Bill Folk, from University of Missouri, on International partnerships in medicinal plants
Steven Foster, an author and photographer, on field guide on medicinal plants and herbs
The agroforestry symposium is held annually with different themes. It has focused on climate change and pollinators, previously.
Five faculty speakers from five different universities, along with two trainees selected based on the merits of their poster abstracts, presented on current topics in epigenetics. The daylong symposium, titled Mizzou Epigenetics, took place on Wednesday, Nov. 9 at the Bond Life Sciences Center.
Dr. Jean-Pierre Issa of Temple University, the keynote speaker, said he was a stickler for the definition of classical epigenetics: stable, long-term changes in gene expression. Textbook examples of epigenetics include X-inactivation, an irreversible process that happens at the beginning of gestation, and imprinting, where certain genes are not expressed based on their parental origins.
DNA methylation is one mechanism that cells use to control whether genes are activated. The presence of methyl tags—single carbons bonded to three hydrogen atoms—act like “off” switches when attached to a region of the gene called the promoter.
Enzymes that add or remove tags are normally busiest during the embryonic development. Cancer is the exception to the rule. According to Issa, cancer presents a “chaotic picture” where methyl tags get added to regions where they don’t belong, and removed from regions where they ought to be, resulting in epigenetic shift.
The greater the epigenetic shift, it seems, the greater the age of the cell. Regardless of whether you look at mice, monkeys or humans, Issa said, from a methylation perspective, “cancers look like very very very old cells.”
He also drew connections between epigenetic shift and other conditions related to aging. For example, specimens with chronic inflammation, infection or the introduction of a new microbiome to a germ-free body tended to show a higher than average amount of epigenetic shift as their cells age. Meanwhile, mice and monkeys who were exposed to calorie restriction tended to have lower amounts of epigenetic shift over time.
Other speakers who presented on epigenetics included:
Dr. Rick Pilsner, from the University of Massachusetts, on how paternal exposure to plasticizers affect sperm DNA methylation
Dr. Bob Schmitz, from the University of Georgia, on the identification of mechanisms behind spontaneous epigenetics variation
Dr. Zohreh Talebizadeh, from Children’s Mercy Hospital, on the genetics of autism
Dr. Andrew Yoo, from Washington University, on microRNA-mediated changes in chromatin during neuronal reprogramming of human fibroblasts
The event was sponsored by Mizzou Advantage, the School of Medicine, the College of Agriculture, Food & Natural Resources, the Bond Life Sciences Center and the Chancellor’s Distinguished Visitors Program.
Dr. Peter Ostrum spoke at Bond LSC in celebration of World One Health Day
By Phillip Sitter |Bond LSC
The character of Charlie Bucket found his golden ticket to a happy life wrapped in a Willy Wonka chocolate bar. Peter Ostrum, who at the time was just a child actor playing Charlie, later found his in horse pastures.
After playing Charlie in 1971’s “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” alongside the late Gene Wilder starring in the titular role, Ostrum didn’t pursue acting any further. He spoke about life as a veterinarian Nov. 3 at Monsanto Auditorium in Bond Life Sciences Center.
“People are always curious about what happened to Charlie. Why wasn’t he in any other films? Did he survive Hollywood? I’m relieved to tell you that my life didn’t end up as a trainwreck,” Ostrum said, getting some laughs from the crowd gathered to listen to him speak.
“The film industry just wasn’t for me,” he explained, although he did enjoy working alongside Wilder and co-star Jack Albertson, who played Grandpa Joe. Ostrum said that every day on lunch break during filming in Munich, Germany, Wilder would share a chocolate bar with him.
Back at home in Ohio, Ostrum worked at a stable, and had several positive interactions with veterinarians. He admired the profession, and working with horses specifically. He even went on to be a groomer for the Japanese three-day equestrian event team at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal.
He wanted to become an equine veterinarian after a year working at an equine veterinary clinic. However, Ostrum discovered that dairy cow care fell more in line with his dreams, and after getting his veterinary degree at Cornell, he’s been doing that ever since — in upstate New York where he is also a husband and father of two children.
Ostrum described how agriculture and veterinary medicine have changed over recent years, with changing numbers and sizes of farms, the rising power of animal welfare groups and an increased desire from consumers to know where their food comes from. People want to know whether animals are treated humanely and whether farms are negatively affecting the environment, he said.
All of these changes and others require increased transparency, education and community outreach efforts by everyone working in agriculture, Ostrum said. In candidates for veterinary associates, he said that he looks for “the intangible skills at the heart of who people are” — their character and their ability to connect with clients and patients.
Ostrum also mentioned the importance of mental health awareness among veterinarians and other health professionals. “We can’t help others if we can’t help and support ourselves,” he said.
This past weekend not only ushered in Mizzou’s first home game of the season, but the return of Saturday Morning Science. The weekly lecture series connects the Columbia community with MU scientists and their research, from bio-engineering to volcanology to anthropology and linguistics.
Elizabeth G. Loboa, dean of the College of Engineering, kicked off the semester with her talk on tissue engineering in the age of drug-resistant bacteria.
Tissue engineering is about turning cells into tissues and organs, for example, fat-derived stem cells into muscle, bone and cartilage. The tissues take shape on tiny scaffolds that are bio-compatible and biodegradable.
The Loboa lab does this, but they’ve added an extra layer to their research: Loboa’s scaffolds also act as pipelines that deliver wound-healing and anti-bacterial compounds to cells as they grow into tissue. The idea is to reduce infection, inflammation and scarring as the wound heals.
“We’re trying to kill these bacteria while helping these stem cells become the cells we want to create,” Loboa said, about her research at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University.
Using a process called electrospinning, Loboa’s group makes scaffolds shaped like porous fibers, sheaths, or hollow sheaths. Depending on their structure, these scaffolds act like faucet taps that control the rate and timing at which anti-bacterial compounds are released.
“I look at our fibers as delivery platforms,” Loboa said.
Saturday Morning Science takes place 10:30 a.m. Saturday at the Bond LSC’s Monsanto Auditorium. Coffee and bagels are available preceding the talks. This semester’s schedule is as follows:
9/17: Carolyn Orbann, Assistant Teaching Professor, Department of Health Sciences, “Historical Epidemics, Novel Techniques: Using Historical and Ethnographic Materials to Build Computer Simulation Models”
9/24: Michael Marlo: Associate Professor of English, “Documenting linguistic diversity: a view from the East African Great Lakes”
10/1: Steve Keller, Associate Professor of Chemistry, “The 20 Greatest Hits in Science…In an Hour”
10/8: Manuel Leal, Associate Professor of Biological Sciences, “Are Lizards Smarter Than Those Who Study them?”
10/15: Stephan Kanne: Executive Director and Associate Professor, Thompson Center for Autism & Neurodevelopmental Disorders, “What Do We Look For When We Diagnose Autism?”
10/29: Libby Cowgill, Assistant Professor Anthropology, “Fitness for the Ages: How to Lift Like a Neanderthal?”
11/5: Arianna Soldati, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Geological Sciences, “Living in a Viscous World: A Volcanologist’s Perspective”
11/12: Frank Schmidt and Gavin Conant, Professor of Biochemistry (Schmidt); Associate Professor of Bioinformatics, Department of Animal Science (Conant), “Networks in Biology and Beyond”
12/3: Elizabeth King, Assistant Professor, Division of Biological Sciences, “What’s the Best Way to Divide up the Pie: The Price of Long Life”
Grand opening highlights specialty of large-scale metabolite profiling
By Phillip Sitter | Bond LSC
You might think you’ve entered the inside of a pinball machine for a moment when you enter lab 243 at the Bond Life Sciences Center.
But the wires and tubes strung around the room, connected to large instruments that produce sounds of whirring fans, humming motors and hissing pumps, are just part of the University of Missouri’s newest core facility, the MU Metabolomics Center.
At its grand opening and open house Friday, August 12, there was even a counter-top half-pipe with metal ball bearings to shoot down it as a demonstration of time of flight mass spectrometry.
This new center will serve as home of high-tech chemical analysis services that scientists in Bond LSC, across campus and the country can use to better understand the organisms they work with on a molecular level.
“We have a series of experiments that allow us to profile hundreds to thousands of different metabolites, and that gives people a large-scale, high resolution biochemical traits for whatever they’re looking at, whether it be plants, microbes or animals,” explained Lloyd Sumner, director of the center. “That is useful in understanding what is happening in response to stresses, disease, drug treatment or pest/pathogen interactions that occur in nature.”
Metabolites are the building blocks and energy sources that fuel your metabolism. In your body, what you eat and drink is processed and yields small molecules that are ready to become raw chemical material for construction processes and energy to fuel these processes, like energy stored in the form of fats and lipids, amino acids for the construction of proteins and enzymes. Metabolite are essentially the raw materials.
In order to be studied, complex metabolite mixtures are separated and observed as individual, uniquely identifiable molecules.
This separation can be accomplished in a couple different ways.
“We have instruments that couple chromatography with mass spectrometry. We use that for comparative profiling. Some of the instruments utilize gas chromatography, some of the instruments use liquid chromatography. Chromatography is the technology used to separate these complex mixtures into its individual components. Once we have the mixture’s components separated, we weigh them and that gives us an idea of their identification,” Sumner explained.
Mass spectrometry works by bombarding molecules with electrons. This bombardment process generates charged molecules that can also fragment into smaller, electrically-charged pieces. These charged pieces can then be “weighed,” or separated, according to their mass-to-charge ratio and identified.
“Something that we find a lot of the time is that we see metabolic differences, but we can’t always identify all of the metabolites associated with those differences. In those cases, we also use the gold standard for chemical identification of unknown molecules,” Sumner said of the nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectrometer in the corner of the lab.
Placards warn people that when NMR produces a magnetic field 235,000 times stronger than the Earth’s — by comparison, a typical refrigerator magnet’s field is about 83 times as strong as the Earth’s.
Sumner explained that most people at Bond LSC won’t use the equipment directly themselves. The center’s Assistant Director Dr. Zhentian Lei and other staff will perform most analyses and training users to prepare, process and understand their data.
Sumner said “we train our core users to do their own sample preparation, data processing and data interpretation. Most of the equipment we have in here [cost] hundreds of thousands of dollars, and so we actually have staff that will do the data acquisition, and we try to make it more cost-effective for users by training them to prep their own samples and process their own data.”
The training workshop in metabolomics will be August 15 through 19. The training Monday through Thursday will be hands-on, and Friday will be a symposium day highlighting current metabolomics research. We will likely offer another training workshop in the Spring of 2017, and then annually thereafter.
Grad students present brain science, crop biology research in series kick-off
By Phillip Sitter | MU Bond Life Sciences Center
You never know what conversations you might overhear at a bar.
The talk centered on neural proteins and vitamin A-fortified bananas Tuesday night as about 40 science-minded people met at 9th Street Public House for the first Science on Tap CoMo.
Science on Tap is a monthly program scheduled for the fourth Tuesday of each month, and it gives Mizzou graduate students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics a chance to present research in their field to a casual audience.
Anahita Zare and Nat Graham at Public House, both graduate students at the University of Missouri carried the conversation.
Zare, a Ph.D. candidate in chemistry at MU, spoke about her work on the development of a laser that, once completed, will allow her and other researchers to be better able to study neural proteins in their natural environment. With this ability to better scrutinize drug interactions with these proteins — as opposed to just before and after observations — the work could let researchers make advances in the race for cures to diseases of the brain like Alzheimer’s.
The incremental progress of work on the laser is all about the tiniest of details. Zare used an analogy of letters and words – “I’m changing letters and watching what happens to the words …” “I know what I’m changing and how I’m changing it, and then see its manifestations,” Zare said about the task.
Graham addressed the coming global food security crisis by offering a solution in the form of genetically-engineered crops with higher nutritional content. While the introduction of genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) into the global food supply have drawn criticism and protest, Graham was steadfast when he said “I believe lives would be saved if this were released.”
He specifically spoke of vitamin A-enriched bananas. It could be ideal for countries like Uganda, a very large exporter and consumer of bananas as a staple crop. Selective breeding techniques — including even exposure of test crops to radioactivity to promote genetic mutations that may prove to be useful — are options in the development of vitamin-enriched crops, but Graham said these other techniques are too unpredictable and time-consuming to guarantee the results needed.
Graham said he had no fear of GMOs, and in fact really wanted to try a vitamin A-enriched “super banana,” but obtaining one is difficult because of regulations that forbid crossing state lines with these bananas.
He also reminded the audience that although the study of plants often seems boring, it goes beyond gardens and forests. Crops are plants, too, and, among many other things, beer comes from crops. So, food security affects your drink.
By Zivile Raskauskaite | MU Bond Life Sciences Center
While walking through the A.L. Gustin Golf Course in Columbia you might be surprised by blossoms of milkweed or wild bergamot.
While some golfers consider it a pests, golf course superintendent Isaac Breuer said properly managed wildflowers in the golf course turned into an important sanctuary for pollinators, such as bees, birds and butterflies.
“A lot of our food comes from pollinators,” Breuer said during a panel at the Native Pollinators Symposium on Thursday, June 23, in Columbia. “If I can help pollinators through the work at the golf course, I am on board.”
About 90 percent of all plant species need the help of pollinating animals. It has been estimated that pollinators deliver one out of every three mouthfuls of food people eat. The population of pollinators is dwindling, so the human-made habitats of native wildflowers can help to maintain the number of pollinators.
The practice of planting native plants at the A.L. Gustin Golf Course was one example of local initiatives to maintain native pollinator populations. Mizzou Botanic Garden organized the Native Pollinators Symposium as a part of National Pollinators’ Week, which ran June 20-26. People gathered in Monsanto Auditorium at the University of Missouri’s Bond Life Sciences Center to learn more about the importance of pollinators.
Breuer shared his experience enriching the environment and turning the 18-hole golf course into pollinator-friendly. His staff worked together with Missouri Department of Conservation to establish natural habitats in specific areas of the golf course.
Now, the mix of native grasses and wildflowers cover more than seven acres of the course. Breuer said they do not affect the pace of the game because native plants are located in the areas where golfers usually do not play.
Golfers can see asters, blazing star, coreopsis, wild bergamot, purple coneflower, rattlesnake master and black eyed Susan blooming in spring and summer. The habitat needs 2-3 years to mature.
That time commitment pays off. By then, it not only looks good and draws wildlife, but also serves as education tool on the importance of natural habitat and native pollinators.
“This golf course is my office, so I try to do things out there that can make the golfers and the environment happy,” Breuer said.
Advanced Light Microscopy magnifies scope of research
By Phillip Sitter | MU Bond Life Sciences Center
Microscopes have come a long way since Anton van Leeuwenhoek first looked at single-cell organisms in the 1600s.
Now, cutting-edge microscopes allow scientists a better look at how cells interact and work.
The results were easy to see Tuesday morning when a new digital light sheet illuminated all the cells in a zebrafish embryo of Anand Chandrasekhar, a Bond Life Sciences Center scientist and professor of biological sciences. The fish, with its two eyes, brain and spinal cord lit up like a green-colored digital ghost floating in invisible black waters of the monitor screen.
This new microscope joins an array in the Advanced Light Microscopy Core, or MCC, located at Bond LSC. The MCC is one of nine core facilities at MU that provide vital services across campus, from DNA sequencing to imaging.
Researchers and staff at the MCC showed on Tuesday how the new capabilities of the technology give them and MU a competitive edge in their research through better visualizations of their experiments.
The digital reconstruction produced by the light sheet combines “a whole bunch of images over an extended period of time,” Chandrasekhar said. Thousands of images of a cell or organism can be generated by the new equipment, at speeds of hundreds of frames per second, creating a picture that can easily take up a terabyte of hard drive space.
At those speeds, Chandrasekhar said he can “literally watch neurons in the brain light up” in real time. He observes how neuron changes occur in the fish’s brain as the animal goes about its different routine behaviors like avoiding possible predators and searching for food. With this capability, researchers like him can study how neuronal networks develop.
The new digital light sheet uses less damaging light than traditional microscopes and allows for clearer pictures, often with a 3-D look at their structure. More advanced imaging equipment also allow for faster, larger volume experiments that are gentler on the biological samples used in them.
Thomas Phillips, MCC Director and professor of biological sciences, explained how his center now can better serve scientists across campus.
In addition to the digital light sheet imaging system, the MCC also has two new super-resolution microscopy systems, what Phillips said researchers across campus expressed they needed most. The presence of these super-resolution systems in particular puts MU at the forefront of microscopic research.
“Whereas every school has a confocal, less than 10 percent have super-resolution capabilities,” Phillips said, and now MU has two super-resolution systems. “The new equipment adds totally new capabilities without interfering with the traditional confocal activities.”
Traditional confocal microscopy systems, while still useful, have limitations in their resolution which super-resolution systems overcome by how the specimens are illuminated.
In addition to having technology other institutions do not, MU has a higher quality version of super-resolution. Phillips explained that while systems at other institutions use two different lasers in the internal mechanisms of their imaging equipment, MU is one of less than 10 or 12 schools that has access to a super-resolution system that has a unique three laser combination that increases the resolution of the system.
“Super-resolution microscopy allows us to see how individual proteins are interacting inside cells in ways we haven’t been able to before,” he said.
Sergiy Sukhanov uses one of the super-resolution microscopes in cardiology research that looks at failure of organ systems. Sukhanov studies heart failure and atherosclerosis — the chronic, dangerous build-up of plaque in arteries that can create blockages that lead to heart attacks, strokes and death.
The associate research professor at MU’s School of Medicine showed on Tuesday images of protein interactions in the smooth muscle cells that line arteries. The goal of understanding these interactions is to help keep these smooth muscles in the healthy condition they need to be in to prevent catastrophic blockages.
With its capability of a resolution of up to 30 nanometers, Sukhanov said that the new equipment’s advantage for him is that he can actually see the cell he’s working on. Soon, he hopes to be able to work with live cells so he can observe changes in their protein structures in response to changes in their environment in real time.
Availability of the new equipment lured Sukhanov and his research team to MU over other institutions in 2014. He explained that he struggled to find the equipment he needed for his experiments at Tulane University in New Orleans or elsewhere in Louisiana. Other systems at other institutions usually only have a resolution of up to 50 nanometers.
Sukhanov’s decision is an example of the growth that the new imaging capabilities at the MCC can promote. As director Phillips explained, “you don’t plan experiments ahead of time if you don’t have the apparatus for it.”
MCC not only provides services across campus, but can give scientists insight into how to better look at their specimens.
First-year graduate student Jennifer Wolf displayed a super-resolution image of cancerous liver cells infected with Hepatitis C that been treated with a drug thought to prevent the virus from spreading. The drug aggregates viral capsid molecules – the outer part of a virus – within the infected cells to effectively contain them.
Wolf said with the new equipment she is now able to see an individual molecule, and using that see the overlap of proteins, RNA and DNA fragments, which can help determine the effectiveness of drugs in treatment.
Associate director of the MCC Alexander Jurkevich explained that the super-resolution equipment also allows for the compilation of separate images into an even more detailed 3-D projection.
Wolf pulled up an image of green-colored mitochondria surrounded by red micro-tubules, green hubs of cellular activity connected by red highways that looked almost like a city from space at night. Wolf used the 3-D capability and rotated the image. She turned the biological intricacy on its side until it looked something like a galaxy on a cosmic horizon, only this view that maybe even fewer people have witnessed is microscopic.
“It’s important to use new technology like this to help the University of Missouri to stay on top,” Wolf said.