• New Microscope set to Advance Understanding of Bio-molecules
    RAL Octopus Laser System (Credit: CLF/STFC)

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New Microscope set to Advance Understanding of Bio-molecules

Jan 20 2021

New Microscope set to Advance Understanding of Bio-molecules

A new design for a cheaper, more flexible microscope that will give microbiologists a greater insight into how single bio-molecules such as nucleic acids and proteins behave has been developed by scientists using the UK’s Central Laser Facility (CLF).

Called the smfBox, the microscope allows scientists to look at one molecule at a time rather than generating an average result from bulk samples. Reported to work as well as commercially available instruments, but at a fraction of the cost, the prospect of more readily available equipment will offer more opportunities for improved drug discovery for diseases such as cancer, HIV-AIDS and COVID-19.

Building on the original smfBox concept developed by a team of academics and undergraduate students at the University of Sheffield, the current researchers hope to expand the use of single molecule imaging by giving the wider scientific community detailed build instructions and open-source software to operate the easy-to-use microscope without the need to invest in expensive infrastructure.

The project was a collaboration between the University of Sheffield and the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s Octopus laser system at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire.

CLF Octopus link scientist Benji Batemen said:

“The smFRET microscope can be easily deployed as a powerful standalone diagnostic instrument or as a complimentary technique to many other single-molecule studies. This will enable researchers to better understand molecular interactions and movements at the bio-molecular level, driving advances in drug discovery and helping to tackle global challenges such the HIV epidemic and the recent COVID-19 pandemic.“

The simplicity of the microscope design is intended to allow scientists unfamiliar with the technique to use the equipment without extensive training. The open-source software means that its applications can be adapted easily for different purposes.

CLF Octopus group leader Professor Marisa Martin-Fernandez said: “Here at Octopus an important aspect of our work is to facilitate non-expert, automated access to advanced imaging equipment, to assist endeavours at the interface of life sciences and physical sciences interface. This remarkable achievement is part of these efforts.”

smfBox was developed using CLF expertise in designing the optics and computing hardware.

More information online

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