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Michael Elbaum Research Group


The living cell is a fascinating biophysical theater of molecular transport, interactions, creation, and degradation. How can we see what's going on inside? Modern technologies based on fluorescence extend the resolution of optical microscopy to the molecular scale, but one sees only the labeled features. The rest of the stage is dark. Our lab develops new approaches to cryo-electron tomography based on scanning transmission EM (STEM). These provide nanometric 3D resolution in samples a micron thick, combined with correlative high-resolution fluorescence. Cryogenic preparation and avoidance of heavy metals allay concerns about artifacts in conventional EM based on plastic embedding or negative stain. We apply the new methods to a variety of studies in cells: protein condensation, the structure of nuclear chromatin, and nuclear division in the malaria-causing parasite Plasmodium. We also work on a number of molecular projects, including malaria-related crystallization of heme, imaging the composition of bacteriophages, and trace metals in proteins.

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