Funding success for new collaborative imaging initiative

A group of researchers from the Department of Biochemistry and the Dunn School of Pathology have won a major award from the Wellcome Trust to establish a new facility for state-of-the-art, super-resolution microscopy and related technologies.

The stage of an inverted microscope with slide holder and the objective lens visible underneath

The stage of an inverted microscope with slide holder and the objective lens visible underneath

Micron Oxford (www.micronoxford.com) will enable researchers from across the University to tackle fundamental biological questions about the dynamics of chromosomes and RNA molecules in living cells and during animal development.

It aims to achieve this by co-ordinating a diverse range of research activities taking place across the University's science area and at hospital sites, spurring the development of a range of advanced technologies in imaging and also in related areas such as molecular tagging and interference.

The facility, whose hub will be in the New Biochemistry building where many of the groups and much of the equipment is based, will be the first of its kind in the UK.

Micron Imaging Facility Manager, Ian Dobbie, aligning the OMX microscope

Micron Imaging Facility Manager, Ian Dobbie, aligning the OMX microscope

Leading the project are Professors Neil Brockdorff, Ilan Davis and Kim Nasmyth from the Biochemistry department, and Professors Nick Proudfoot, Jordan Raff and Elizabeth Robertson, from the Dunn School of Pathology. They will work with colleagues from the Departments of Chemistry, Engineering, Physics, and Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics, and at hospital sites. Each group will bring its specific expertise and interest.

One of the most exciting goals of the facility, says Professor Ilan Davis, is to build on existing interdisciplinary collaborations. An example of this is the work of Dr Mark Howarth, a nano-biotechnology researcher in the Biochemistry department who is developing novel molecular tags that are being used by groups to track molecules inside cells and embryos. Another example is the work of Dr Mark Leake in the Physics department who builds bespoke microscopes and is working closely with Biochemistry researchers to push forward the resolution of imaging technologies.

Drosophila syncytial embryo undergoing synchronized cell division, showing DNA in blue, centrosomes in green and microtubule spindle in red

Drosophila syncytial embryo undergoing synchronized cell division, showing DNA in blue, centrosomes in green and microtubule spindle in red

Collaborative groupings will be looking to develop other sophisticated approaches, for example, to interfere with specific molecules of interest. For many researchers, explains Professor Jordan Raff, the ultimate goal is to be able to manipulate a single protein in a cell and follow the effect of this as it happens - a much more rapid and direct approach than conventional genetic manipulation. This is close to becoming possible in bacteria but there is still some way to go before it can be done in more complex organisms.

The range of organisms studied by researchers using the facility will be very broad - from microbes to much more complex organisms such as Drosophila and mice. Researchers like Professor Neil Brockdorff, who study mammalian cells, anticipate that their research will benefit greatly from this. Techniques for molecular tagging and manipulation are much more advanced in simple organisms, enabling researchers to probe the function of molecules in fine detail, and there is huge potential to develop these for use in more complex organisms.

Using OMX: Richard Parton standing, with Moonhee Hong and Timothy Weil sitting behind using the OMX super-resolution imaging system from Applied Precision

Using OMX: Richard Parton standing, with Moonhee Hong and Timothy Weil sitting behind using the OMX super-resolution imaging system from Applied Precision

Researchers working in areas of cell biology and development outside the immediate field of chromosome and RNA biology will also benefit from the advanced imaging approaches being developed. Whatever their level of knowledge about the approaches, researchers will be able to take advantage of a facility offering this expertise right on their doorstep - through workshops, seminars and other collaborative interactions.

The award from the Wellcome Trust will support a range of posts to help run Micron. These will be to develop imaging technologies, analyse images, and manage the vast quantity of data that will be generated. Funds are also provided to purchase additional microscopy equipment to complement existing equipment, for data storage facilities, and for a seminar programme and workshop. University support will enable the recruitment of a junior group leader to the facility.





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