Every great structure, from the Empire State Building to the Golden Gate Bridge, depends on specific mechanical properties to remain strong and reliable. Rigidity—a material's stiffness—is of particular importance for maintaining the robust functionality of everything from colossal edifices to the tiniest of nanoscale structures.
A DNA structure as seen through the 4D electron microscope invented at Caltech.
Credit: Zewail & Lorenz/Caltech
In biological nanostructures, like DNA networks, it has been difficult to measure this stiffness, which is essential to their properties and functions. But scientists at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have recently developed techniques for visualizing the behavior of biological nanostructures in both space and time, allowing them to directly measure stiffness and map its variation throughout the network.
The new method is outlined in the February 4 early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
"This type of visualization is taking us into domains of the biological sciences that we did not explore before," says Nobel Laureate Ahmed Zewail, the Linus Pauling Professor of Chemistry and professor of physics at Caltech, who coauthored the paper with Ulrich Lorenz, a postdoctoral scholar in Zewail's lab. "We are providing the methodology to find out—directly—the stiffness of a biological network that has nanoscale properties."
Knowing the mechanical properties of DNA structures is crucial to building sturdy biological networks, among other applications. According to Zewail, this type of visualization of biomechanics in space and time should be applicable to the study of other biological nanomaterials, including the abnormal protein assemblies that underlie diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.
Zewail and Lorenz were able to see, for the first time, the motion of DNA nanostructures in both space and time using the four-dimensional (4D) electron microscope developed at Caltech's Physical Biology Center for Ultrafast Science and Technology. The center is directed by Zewail, who created it in 2005 to advance understanding of the fundamental physics of chemical and biological behavior.
"In nature, the behavior of matter is determined by its structure—the arrangements of its atoms in the three dimensions of space—and by how the structure changes with time, the fourth dimension," explains Zewail. "If you watch a horse gallop in slow motion, you can follow the time of the gallops, and you can see in detail what, for example, each leg is doing over time. When we get to the nanometer scale, that is a different story—we need to improve the spatial resolution to a billion times that of the horse in order to visualize what is happening."
Zewail was awarded the 1999 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his development of femtochemistry, which uses ultrashort laser flashes to observe fundamental chemical reactions occurring at the timescale of the femtosecond (one millionth of a billionth of a second). Although femtochemistry can capture atoms and molecules in motion, giving the time dimension, it cannot concurrently show the dimensions of space, and thus the structure of the material. This is because it utilizes laser light with wavelengths that far exceed the dimension of a nanostructure, making it impossible to resolve and image nanoscale details in tiny physical structures such as DNA .
To overcome this major hurdle, the 4D electron microscope employs a stream of individual electrons that scatter off objects to produce an image. The electrons are accelerated to wavelengths of picometers, or trillionths of a meter, providing the capability for visualizing the structure in space with a resolution a thousand times higher than that of a nanostructure, and with a time resolution of femtoseconds or longer.
The experiments reported in PNAS began with a structure created by stretching DNA over a hole embedded in a thin carbon film. Using the electrons in the microscope, several DNA filaments were cut away from the carbon film so that a three-dimensional, free-standing structure was achieved under the 4D microscope.
Next, the scientists employed laser heat to excite oscillations in the DNA structure, which were imaged using the electron pulses as a function of time—the fourth dimension. By observing the frequency and amplitude of these oscillations, a direct measure of stiffness was made.
"It was surprising that we could do this with a complex network," says Zewail. "And yet by cutting and probing, we could go into a selective area of the network and find out about its behavior and properties."
Using 4D electron microscopy, Zewail's group has begun to visualize protein assemblies called amyloids, which are believed to play a role in many neurodegenerative diseases, and they are continuing their investigation of the biomechanical properties of these networks. He says that this technique has the potential for broad applications not only to biological assemblies, but also in the materials science of nanostructures.
Funding for the research outlined in the PNAS paper, "Biomechanics of DNA structures visualized by 4D electron microscopy," was provided by the National Science Foundation and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research. The Physical Biology Center for Ultrafast Science and Technology at Caltech is supported by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.
Written by Katie Neith
Deborah Williams-Hedges | EurekAlert!
Further reports about: > CHEMISTRY > Caltech > DNA > DNA structures > Gates Foundation > Nobel Prize > PNAS > Physical Biology > chemical reaction > degenerative disease > electron microscope > electron microscopy > information technology > mechanical properties > neurodegenerative disease > synthetic biology > ultrafast sonograms
How to become a T follicular helper cell
31.07.2015 | La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology
Heating and cooling with light leads to ultrafast DNA diagnostics
31.07.2015 | University of California - Berkeley
Mit ultrakalten Atomen lässt sich ein neuer Materiezustand beobachten, in dem das System nicht ins thermische Gleichgewicht kommt.
Was passiert, wenn man kaltes und heißes Wasser mischt? Nach einer Weile ist das Wasser lauwarm – das System hat ein neues thermisches Gleichgewicht erreicht....
Using ultracold atoms trapped in light crystals, scientists from the MPQ, LMU, and the Weizmann Institute observe a novel state of matter that never thermalizes.
What happens if one mixes cold and hot water? After some initial dynamics, one is left with lukewarm water—the system has thermalized to a new thermal...
Physikern der Universitäten Regensburg und Marburg ist es gelungen, die von einem starken Lichtfeld getriebene Bewegung von Elektronen in einem Halbleiter in extremer Zeitlupe zu beobachten. Dabei konnten sie ein grundlegend neues Quantenphänomen entschlüsseln. Die Ergebnisse der Wissenschaftler sind jetzt in der renommierten Fachzeitschrift „Nature“ veröffentlicht worden (DOI: 10.1038/nature14652).
Die rasante Entwicklung in der Elektronik mit Taktraten bis in den Gigahertz-Bereich hat unser Alltagsleben revolutioniert. Sie stellt jedoch auch Forscher...
Physicists from Regensburg and Marburg, Germany have succeeded in taking a slow-motion movie of speeding electrons in a solid driven by a strong light wave. In the process, they have unraveled a novel quantum phenomenon, which will be reported in the forthcoming edition of Nature.
The advent of ever faster electronics featuring clock rates up to the multiple-gigahertz range has revolutionized our day-to-day life. Researchers and...
Erstmals konnte das chemische Element Lithium in der ausgestoßenen Materie einer Nova nachgewiesen werden. Beobachtungen von Nova Centauri 2013 mit Teleskopen des La Silla-Observatoriums der ESO und in der Nähe von Santiago de Chile helfen bei der Aufklärung des Rätsels, warum so viele junge Sterne mehr von diesem Element enthalten als erwartet. Diese Entdeckung liefert ein seit langem fehlendes Teil im Puzzle der chemischen Entwicklungsgeschichte unserer Galaxie und ist ein großer Fortschritt für das Verständnis des Mischungsverhältnisses der chemischen Elemente in den Sternen unserer Milchstraße.
Das leichte chemische Element Lithium ist eines der wenigen Elemente, das nach unserer Modellvorstellung auch beim Urknall vor 13,8 Milliarden Jahren...
31.07.2015 | Veranstaltungen
30.07.2015 | Veranstaltungen
30.07.2015 | Veranstaltungen
31.07.2015 | Seminare Workshops
31.07.2015 | Seminare Workshops
31.07.2015 | Verkehr Logistik