Scientists at the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II) at the Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory have used ultrabright X-rays to image single bacteria with higher spatial resolution than ever before. Their work demonstrates an X-ray imaging technique, called X-ray fluorescence microscopy, as an effective approach to produce 3D images of small biological samples. The record-breaking resolution of the X-ray images was made possible by the advanced capabilities of the Hard X-ray Nanoprobe (HXN) beamline, an experimental station at NSLS-II with novel nanofocusing optics and exceptional stability. While other imaging techniques, such as electron microscopy, can image the structure of a cell membrane with very high resolution, these techniques are unable to provide chemical information on the cell. At HXN, the researchers could produce 3D chemical maps of their samples, identifying where trace elements are found throughout the cell. The researchers say that demonstrating the efficacy of the X-ray imaging technique, as well as the sample preparation method, was the first step in a larger project to image trace elements in other biological cells at the nanoscale. The team is particularly interested in copper's role in neuron death in Alzheimer's disease.
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