Funding for New Microscope to Help Improve Human Health, Discover New Materials

December 12, 2013 - News Release

A new state-of-the-art microscope is expected to help University of Guelph researchers find ways to fight bacterial infections and discover unique biological materials for a variety of uses.

Prof. John Dutcher, Department of Physics, will use a $163,143 grant from the Canada Foundation for Innovation to purchase a new atomic force microscope.

Dutcher’s research group will use the instrument for imaging and mechanical measurements of biopolymers, biological structures and bacterial cells, all at the molecular level.

“Microscopes are rapidly evolving, and this one, which is the latest and greatest of them, will provide better stability and resolution that will allow us to get a better understanding of the properties of these systems,” said Dutcher, holder of the Canada Research Chair in Soft Matter and Biological Physics.

“For example, we’ll be able to not only collect high-resolution images of bacterial cell surfaces but also to press on the cells to determine how they respond to antimicrobial agents.”

Dutcher said this work may help to identify new treatments for bacterial strains that have developed antimicrobial resistance.

“Bacterial resistance to commonly used or over-used antimicrobials is an emerging, serious problem that can lead to life-threatening infections, so it is crucial that we understand their properties as soon as possible.

“If we can determine how antimicrobials work, and how quickly they act, we can contribute an important piece to this complicated puzzle.”

He works with researchers across the University, including the Department of Chemistry and the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology.

Integrated with his lab’s existing microscopes, such as a custom-built, surface-sensitive fluorescence microscope, the new instrument will give his team a more comprehensive picture.

“You can’t use just one technique to measure complex biological systems. This microscope will provide complementary information that will give us more insight into the properties of biological cells and biomaterials,” Dutcher said.

His atomic force microscopy facility has already led to the discovery of a new natural nanoparticle since developed for use in cosmetics formulations.

“What we’re able to do in the lab can lead to applications in the real world, such as improving health and well-being and personal care products.”

Dutcher hopes to install the new microscope by summer 2014.

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