Real-Life Look at Cells
Botanist leads team of researchers who will use the device
for variety of projects across campus
U of G scientists hope to get a more intimate real-life
look at the inner workings of cells and tissues after a
new state-of-the-art microscope worth almost $400,000 arrives
at Guelph next month.
The new instrument will give investigators across three
colleges a more powerful tool for learning about cellular
parts and processes. Initially to be installed in the Department
of Botany, the new $392,000 device will eventually become
part of a suite of microscopy and imaging tools planned
for the University's new science complex.
"The instrument allows researchers to examine cells
and dynamic processes," says Prof. Robert Mullen, Botany.
Unlike electron microscopes, which permit users to study
only dead tissue, this confocal laser scanning microscope
uses laser light to produce two- and three-dimensional images
of live tissue.
Mullen led a team of Guelph researchers in a funding application
in late 2000 to the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research
Council (NSERC). The council will provide $250,000 through
a major equipment grant. The balance will be paid for through
the budgets of four College of Biological Science departments
- Botany, Zoology, Microbiology and Molecular Biology and
Genetics - as well as funding from the CBS dean's office,
OVC's Department of Biomedical Sciences and the Food System
Some 30 Guelph faculty from those and other departments
are expected to use the device regularly in a variety of
research projects. It will replace an older microscope to
be retained for teaching purposes.
Scheduled to arrive in March, the microscope will be ready
for use by early April, says Mullen. It will be installed
in an imaging and microscopy centre in the botany wing of
the Axelrod Building. Eventually, the equipment will be
housed in specially designed quarters within the planned
science building, along with scanning transmission electron
microscopes and related equipment currently in the NSERC/Guelph
Regional STEM facility in the Department of Microbiology.
Yukari Uetake, who recently completed post-doctoral work
in botany at U of G, will return this spring from Japan
as a research technician to run the equipment.
Writing the NSERC funding application was one of the first
priorities for Mullen when he arrived at the University
in 2000. "This is probably my primary instrument,"
As a plant biologist, he plans to use the microscope to
observe how proteins move around and work inside plant cells.
He says his basic research might eventually help applied
scientists in, say, biotechnology companies manipulate genes
and proteins to make seedlings germinate and grow more rapidly
Studying proteins used in certain cellular structures might
also help medical researchers learn more about how defects
in those structures can cause human diseases such as Zellweger's
syndrome, a metabolic disorder.
"How an organelle is formed in a plant is not that
different from how an organelle is formed in an animal,"
Prof. Terry Beveridge, Microbiology, plans to use the new
instrument to learn more about bacterial attachment and
growth on various surfaces.
"This microscope will allow us to take 'optical slices'
through the biofilm without disturbing its viability, so
as to understand the microenvironments that surround each
bacterial cell and are so important for growth," he
Although an electron microscope provides higher resolution
to distinguish between cellular components, the beam of
electrons kills whatever the user is examining. This confocal
instrument will allow scientists to study dynamic processes
in living tissues and cells. And it will allow users to
zero in on various layers and organelles within a cell in
a more precise way than a conventional light microscope
Imagine looking through an unopened deck of cards for one
particular card, says Mullen. "A laser microscope filters
out all the other light from the deck except the one card
you're interested in."