Transformative High-Resolution Cryoelectron Microscopy Program
The program is broadening access to high-resolution cryoelectron microscopy (cryoEM) and tomography (cryoET) for biomedical researchers by creating national service centers, and cultivating a skilled workforce through the development and implementation of cryoEM training material. CryoEM and cryoET enable high-resolution, three-dimensional data collection on samples that could not be used with other techniques in the past, such as samples containing mixtures of different biological structures or intact cells. The three National cryoEM Service Centers offer usage of state-of-the-art equipment, technical support, and cross-training for the production and analysis of high-resolution data. These offerings are available at no charge for non-profit use, eliminating the high cost barrier usually associated with cryoEM. The NIH recently funded four centers to make up the National Network for CryoET. This Network will provide the biomedical research community access to advanced instrumentation for cryoET, cryoET specimen preparation, and collection of high-resolution cryoET data as well as cross-training in cryoET methods. Check back for updates on this exciting new resource!
Open access instructional material on cryoEM for those with or without a structural biology background is already available through the CryoEM Curriculum Development sites. Further developments are expected soon.
The CryoEM program issued its first awards in May of 2018. During the initial year, the awarded sites and consortium established operating procedures, an annual meeting, and other logistics to effectively achieve the overall goal of the program. The individual centers are nearing completion and training institutions are finalizing relevant materials. The Centers had expected to be nearly fully operational by May 2020; however, the COVID-19 pandemic has curtailed activities. The Centers are adapting to the situation by prioritizing COVID-19 samples, using remote data collection when possible, and hosting virtual workshops. The curriculum training awardees are continuing to make good progress.
Microscopy is an important tool for scientists in the study of cells, tissues, and organs. Knowing the structure of a molecule reveals important information about how it functions and can provide insight into potential drug targets for fighting disease. CryoEM is a method used to image frozen biological molecules without the use of structure-altering dyes or fixatives or the need for crystallization to provide a more accurate picture of the molecules and a greater understanding of biological function. Recent advances in cryoEM technology have made it possible for scientists to obtain detailed images and structures of many biological molecules that cannot be obtained using other methods, like X-ray crystallography. Despite the emergence of cryoEM as a powerful high-resolution imaging method, its use is hampered by inadequate access to equipment and a limited workforce. By increasing scientists’ access and training on cryoEM and the detailed information it can provide about viruses, proteins, and other important biomolecules, the NIH hopes to accelerate the development of vaccines and drugs to combat diseases and conditions from Alzheimer’s to Zika.
This page last reviewed on March 7, 2023