New microscope uses photonics to better understand “superbugs”


Scientists are building a new super-resolution microscope that uses laser light to study the inner workings and behaviors of superbugs to gain new insight into how they cause disease.

The microscope will allow scientists to scan bacteria like Streptococcus Pneumoniae at molecular-scale resolution – showing objects less than 10,000e the thickness of a sheet of paper.

The leading cause of bacterial pneumonia, meningitis and sepsis, Streptococcus Pneumoniae bacteria are estimated to have caused an estimated 335,000 deaths in children aged five and under in 2015 worldwide.

Current technologies do not allow a resolution allowing in-depth studies of the bacterial properties that affect the development of the disease.

But now this super-resolution microscope uses laser light to illuminate proteins at incredibly high resolutions, allowing scientists to gain new insight into what makes these potentially deadly bacteria so pathogenic.

While electron microscopes can show minute detail at the atomic level, they cannot analyze living specimens: electrons can easily be deflected by molecules in the air, meaning any bacteria inspected must be kept under vacuum. Therefore, super-resolution microscopes perform much better for biological analysis.

Called “NANO Scale Visualization to Understand Bacterial Virulence and Invasion – Based on Fluorescence NANOscopy and Vibration Microscopy” (or “NanoVIB” for short), the project will shed new light on how superbugs can cause disease, providing the basis for the development of new antimicrobials to treat bacterial infections.

In order to understand how bacteria cause disease, the European Commission granted this health consortium € 5,635,529 via the Public-Private Photonics Partnership to build this super-resolution microscope.

Tenfold resolution

While super-resolution microscopes already exist, the NanoVIB team proposes to fabricate a new device with unparalleled resolution capable of revealing the complex and detailed molecular mechanisms underlying inter and intracellular processes and diseases.

Project coordinator Prof Jerker Widengren said: “We expect our new prototype microscope to be a next-generation super-resolution system, allowing the imaging of cellular proteins labeled with fluorescence emitters ( fluorophores) with ten times higher resolution than with any other fluorescence microscopy technique.

Using advanced laser, detector and microscopy technologies that will be developed in the project, super-resolution localization models of specific proteins will be superimposed on light scattering images, correlating these patterns with structures. local and chemical conditions of bacteria.

“Using laser light, this new microscope will show how bacterial proteins locate on the surface of bacteria, allowing scientists to study the pathogen’s interaction with immune and host cells.

It works on the basis of the MINFLUX concept, where infrared laser light excites the fluorophore-labeled molecules in a triangulated fashion, which leads to increased resolution. The user can then fine-tune the microscopic imaging to resolutions previously unimaginable.

“MINFLUX microscopy will determine how certain pneumococcal surface proteins are distributed on bacteria at different stages of cell division, and if these proteins are localized such that specific and extra-sensitive surface regions of the bacteria, a critical step in cell division, are protected from immune activation, ”Widengren said.

European research ecosystem

The NanoVIB team took inspiration from a previous EU-funded project, Fluodiamon, which analyzed how specific proteins are spatially distributed in breast and prostate cancer cells compared to those in non-breast cancer cells. corresponding cancerous cells, demonstrating a new basis for cancer diagnosis.

“The objective of the NanoVIB project is to recover information, which is beyond the reach of any other microscopic or photonic technique. We will demonstrate how the localization patterns of cellular proteins at the nanoscale can be solved, which will help us reveal the mechanisms of bacterial diseases and is likely to be of considerable importance for many other diseases.

“These studies could shed new light on how the specific surface proteins of these bacteria are spatially distributed on cells and provide important evidence that the virulence (ability to generate disease) and invasiveness of these bacteria are highly coupled with such spatial distribution models. “

The project will end in 2024 and includes six partners from three countries: Kungliga Tekniska Hoegskolan (KTH), the coordinator, Karolinska Institutet (Sweden); Institut für Nanophotonik, Abberior Instruments GMBH, APE Angewandte Physik und Elektronik (Germany); and Pi Imaging Technology (Switzerland).


About photonics21

Photonics21 is the European Technology Platform (ETP) for photonics, a technology encompassing all products and processes around the emission, manipulation and detection of light. Photonics is an integral part of many industries, including medicine, healthcare, transportation, manufacturing, and telecommunications.

“Photonics21” was created in December 2005 to bring together the community of researchers and industrialists in photonics. The European Commission defined photonics as one of the five key European technologies (KET) in September 2009. Shortly after, the European research and innovation program “Horizon 2020” invited Photonics21 to become a “public partnership -private “(PPP). The “Photonics 21 Association”, a legal entity under Belgian law, became the private contractual partner in November 2013 in a public-private partnership (PPP) in collaboration with the European Commission.

Today, Photonics21 represents more than 3000 personal members from all over Europe and abroad. Our members are experts from the photonics industry, research organizations and universities who are actively developing a common photonics strategy for future research and innovation in Europe.

With the global photonics market growing from 350 billion euros in 2011 to 447 billion euros in 2015, photonics remains a strong industry. The European photonics industry, estimated at 70 billion euros, occupies many positions of world leader and directly employs more than 300,000 people.

With positive growth forecasts, current industry trends such as digitization, resource efficiency, individual and failure-free production will further boost the photonics industry.


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