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Salk scientists use Amazon Cloud to view molecular machinery in remarkable detail
Date:2/1/2013

In this week's Nature Methods, Salk researchers share a how-to secret for biologists: code for Amazon Cloud that significantly reduces the time necessary to process data-intensive microscopic images.

The method promises to speed research into the underlying causes of disease by making single-molecule microscopy of practical use for more laboratories.

"This is an extremely cost-effective way for labs to process super-resolution images," says Hu Cang, Salk assistant professor in the Waitt Advanced Biophotonics Center and coauthor of the paper. "Depending on the size of the data set, it can save over a week's worth of time."

The latest frontier in basic biomedical research is to better understand the "molecular machines" called proteins and enzymes. Determining how they interact is key to discovering cures for diseases. Simply put, finding new therapies is akin to troubleshooting a broken mechanical assembly line-if you know all the steps in the manufacturing process, it's much easier to identify the step where something went wrong. In the case of human cells, some of the parts of the assembly line can be as small as single molecules.

Unfortunately, in the past conventional light microscopes could not clearly show objects as small as single molecules. The available alternatives, such as electron microscopy, could not be effectively used with living cells.

In 1873, German physicist Ernst Abbe worked out the mathematics to improve resolution in light microscopes. But Abbe's calculations also established the optical version of the sound barrier: the diffraction limit, an unavoidable spreading of light. Think of how light fans out from a flashlight.

According to the Abbe limit, it is impossible to see the difference between any two objects if they are smaller than half the wavelength of the imaging light. Since the shortest wavelength we can see is around 400 nanometers (nm), that means anything 200 nm or be
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Contact: andy Hoang
ahoang@salk.edu
619-861-5811
Salk Institute
Source:Eurekalert  

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