The NIH Common Fund's Transformative High Resolution Cryo-Electron Microscopy program supports efforts to broaden biomedical scientists’ access to cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM), the Nobel Prize-winning imaging method that is revolutionizing structural biology. The program will create national cryo-EM service centers to provide access to cryo-EM technology and support the development of cryo-EM training curricula to build a skilled workforce. Microscopy is an important tool for scientists in the study of cells, tissues, and organs. Knowing the structure of a molecule reveals important information about how it functions and can provide insight into potential drug targets for fighting disease. Cryo-EM is a method used to image frozen biological molecules without the use of structure-altering dyes or fixatives, to provide a more accurate picture of the molecules and a greater understanding of biological function. Recent advances in cryo-EM technology have made it possible for scientists to obtain detailed images and structures of many biological molecules that cannot be imaged using other methods, like X-ray crystallography. Despite the emergence of cryo-EM as a powerful high-resolution imaging method, its use is hampered by high equipment and operating costs and a limited workforce. By increasing scientists’ access and training on cryo-EM and the detailed information it can provide about viruses, proteins, and other important biomolecules, the NIH hopes to accelerate the development of vaccines and drugs to combat diseases and conditions from Alzheimer’s to Zika.
Structure determines function in biology. Understanding the structure and organization of a molecule reveals its essential machinery, how it operates, and potential drug targets in disease. One method used to determine structure is cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM), which uses electron beams to image frozen biological molecules. Cryo-EM can be more precise and accurate than other imaging methods because it does not require structure-altering dyes or fixatives. Recent technological advances in detector sensitivity and image analysis have extended cryo-EM resolutions to the atomic level, making it possible to image small molecules in great detail. Cryo-EM promises to open up previously inaccessible levels of biological organization to high-resolution analyses, thus increasing our understanding of biological functions and molecular interactions that are essential for structure-based therapeutics.
Despite the promises of cryo-EM, the high cost of microscopes and their operations hamper the use of cryo-EM by the wider scientific field. To make cryo-EM more accessible, the Transformative High Resolution Cryo-Electron Microscopy program will
- Provide researchers access to state-of-the-art equipment, technical support, and instruction for the production and analysis of high-resolution data using cryo-EM technology.
- Develop an expert workforce of cryo-EM practitioners.
This page last reviewed on April 26, 2018