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LTU researchers gain another powerful tool

Release Date: November 14, 2013
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LTU Associate Professor Jeffery Morrissette and biology senior Chris Kot discuss a slide in the Confocal Microscopy Laboratory.

LTU faculty and students in the life sciences and biomedical engineering have gained a powerful new tool for visualizing cell and tissue architectures with the opening of the Confocal Microscopy Laboratory earlier this year. The laboratory on the second floor of the Science Building houses a state-of-the-art Olympus FV1200 biological laser scanning confocal microscope system.

The confocal microscope achieves its superior results by focusing a spot of laser light onto a single point in the specimen and collecting the emitted light through a confocal pinhole that excludes out-of-focus signals that cause an image to blur. To acquire a crisp image, data in a plane of focus are first collected sequentially point-by-point to generate a two-dimensional image. A stack of such optical sections taken on a series of focal planes is then combined and processed by computer to build up a three-dimensional image.

The system also allows sophisticated manipulations for studying dynamic processes in living cells. These techniques include fluorescence resonance energy transfer, fluorescence recovery after photobleaching, and photoactivation, which detect molecular interactions and movements within subcellular structures.

Several lines of research are now utilizing the confocal microscope laboratory. Among them, chemical biology senior Chris Kot is working with Associate Professor Jeffery Morrissette of the Department of Natural Sciences and Dean of Arts and Sciences Hsiao-Ping Moore to investigate the effect of calcium on intracellular signals involved in the metabolism of fat. This research may one day contribute to the development of new therapies or drugs to treat diabetes and obesity.

LTU students in the life sciences will use the confocal microscope beginning next semester when it will be incorporated into the Cell Biology Laboratory. Students taking this course (BIO 4811) study signal transduction mechanisms in living cells. Using the confocal microscope, students will be able to visualize how the binding of molecules to the surface of a cell can trigger internal changes in structure and cell function.

The Confocal Microscope Laboratory also provides opportunities for external collaboration with area researchers. One example is an ongoing collaboration between Moore and James Granneman’s lab at Wayne State University School of Medicine. Their research focuses on a process called lipotoxicity, in which excess lipids accumulate and cause dysregulation of cellular function. Cellular lipotoxicity leads to several diseases and is thought to be a major means by which obesity contributes to diabetes and cardiovascular disease.