X-ray imaging of biological cells advanced by researchers

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Franz Pfeiffer, PhD, chair of the biomedical physics group at Technical University Munich and colleagues have reported progress in their “lensless” x-ray microscopy--an approach to imaging biological cells-they introduced last year. The results of their most recent research were published in the early edition of the Dec. 7-11 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Ptychography, a method first introduced in the 1970’s for electron diffraction, has gained status in the field of x-ray imaging by Pfeiffer and his colleagues by being utilized as the aforementioned “lensless” technique. According to the researchers, this method has shown promise for ultra-high resolution imaging of life science samples and materials, due to the short wavelength of x-ray radiation.

Pfeiffer and his team developed the method based on the issue surrounding the production of high-quality x-ray lenses by x-ray microscopy.

The study had Pfeiffer and his colleagues team up with researchers at the University of Goettingen in Germany and the Swiss Light Source in Villigen, Switzerland in the production of the first images of biological cells utilizing the ptychography technique.

The nano-meter scale imaging of these biological cells- including polyextremophile Deinococcus radiourans, a bacteria, presents the ability to see nanoscale structures within the cells that have the potential to unveil important evolutionary biology and biotechnology information, said the researchers.

The scientists said that the results of the study reveal that through the use of ptychography, accurate and reliable measurements of the electron density forming a biological sample can be obtained.

Prior to the employment of this method, biological samples were too fragile and transparent for existing x-ray technology, making accurate measurement a challenge, said the researchers.

Further study in this field will include improvement of the technique, including 3D imagining of biological samples, concluded the researchers.