From ‘blobology’ to atomic precision: Wisconsin’s leadership on cryo-EM imaging

Photo of Elizabeth R. Wright
Professor Elizabeth Wright.

Microscopes have come a long way from what many people remember from their high school biology class. Instead of peering through a lens, scientists can now create 3D images by shooting beams of electrons at protein structures that have been frozen to hold their shape.

This state-of-the-art technology, called cryo-electron microscopy or cryo-EM, drives a promising collaboration between the UW-Madison Department of Biochemistry and the Morgridge Institute. Recognizing they risked falling behind, the partners worked to build a center that supports a broad range of research on campus and is now a national hub for training and research development.

The resulting center is now already working with nearly 50 groups spanning many different types of science. In addition to the researchers studying proteins, many are looking at viruses such as SARS-CoV-2 and HIV. Others work with bacteria to understand how to develop new antimicrobials and antibiotics. Some groups want to look more at tissue, such as the eye, or brain tissue to understand different neurodegenerative diseases and brain development.

Biochemistry professor and Morgridge affiliate Elizabeth Wright directs the UW–Madison Cryo-Electron Microscopy Research Center and the Midwest Center for Cryo-Electron Tomography.

“We’re pioneering different aspects of thinking about computation, hardcore algorithm development, and how we use these microscopes to look at challenging biological questions,” says Wright.

Continue reading about biochemistry’s partnership with the Morgridge Institute on cryo-EM in a story by Karen Lowry Miller the Morgridge Institute website.