Lighting up single molecules

Berkeley Lab researchers have created nanoparticles that can be safely used to image single proteins in a cell without disrupting the protein’s activity. Credit: Andrew Mueller

It is amazing to see the ingenuity of researchers in moving further and further ahead. From the first attempt to look at the infinitesimally small by Antoine van Leeuwenhoek in the XVII century scientists have invented better and better ways to look at living cells and inside the a living cell. 

Now researchers at Berkeley Lab have found a way to visualise single proteins inside a living neurone. They have manufactured nano particles that can be attached to specific molecules and turn fluorescent when illuminated by an infrared beam.

The nano particles can be as small as 4.8nm, so small not to affect the behaviour of the protein inside the neurone. The nano particles can up convert two infra red photons into one photon in the visible light spectrum. Hence by introducing the nano particles into the neurone the nano particles will bind onto the target molecule. By illuminating the neurone with photons with a wave length in the infrared the nano particles will fluoresce letting the researchers to follow the molecule inside the neurone.

This creates a resolution of over 100,000 times the one achieved by Leeuwenhoek! Amazing, isn't it?

As scientists are able to explore more and more they create more and more data and this is the data deluge that is already upon us and will keep increasing in the coming years.

Author - Roberto Saracco

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