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New view of cellular 'skeleton'

BBC News BBC News 26/05/2014 BBC News

Scientists have developed new tools for looking at structural proteins in action inside our cells.

The two fluorescent markers will "switch on" when they bind to actin or tubulin, the building blocks of the cellular "skeleton".

Because they are safe and stable, the new markers can be added directly to cells in culture.

This makes for brilliant, live pictures of the architecture of living cells, reported in the journal Nature Methods.

A large team led by researchers from the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) built on a previous discovery of a fluorescent molecule that only emits light when attached to the charged surface of a protein.

They coupled this marker to two different compounds, which specifically stick to the two most important structural proteins in nearly all cells.

The new tools emit light at far-red wavelengths, which is easily separated from background light and allows very detailed photographs to be taken using a microscopic technique called "super-resolution" imaging.

Importantly, they easily pass into live cells and can be used at very low concentrations that are not toxic.

"You just add them directly into your cell culture, and they are taken up by the cells," said Prof Kai Johnsson, one of the study's authors.

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