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Posts tagged ‘structural biology’

Practical science: the lab technician

Pat Edwards is a Research Support Technician in the Structural Studies Division at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB) in Cambridge. She spoke to The Long+Short about her job.

Pat Edwards

Pat Edwards (Image copyright: Chris Tate)

I suppose I am an archetypal technician. We have a lot of new people just trying to work out what’s going on, so I’m a knowledge base for a lot of the things, the methods and technologies, which go on in the lab.

We do structural biology of membrane proteins, which has huge implications for medicine. I do anything from expressing those proteins, to purification and crystallisation. I work with my boss and a postdoc on a project that will change depending on who that is. My work is acknowledged and I am always on the papers that result from it.

My background is an applied biology degree. I was interested in doing science, but not in doing a PhD – I’m not very good at studying, but I’m a very practical person. My first job was actually here in the LMB, and I guess I really learnt the trade, if you could call it that, in the lab – which is really the more practical side of science. Read more

Behind the picture: New microscope tech that’s as good as gold

Christmas decoration? Modern art? Anything to do with science at all? Of course it is. As well as being pretty to look at, this little grid full of holes could have a big impact on microscopy. Dr Chris Russo, a researcher at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology (MRC LMB) and the person who took the photo, explains more.

A close-up of a gold grid, showing a cross-hatched pattern with internal squares of dots or holes

It might look like something you should hang on your wall, but this picture is actually a close-up of a tiny gold device that could allow researchers to unravel the details of how the complex biological machines inside cells work.

Working with Dr Lori Passmore, I have used this ‘grid’, which costs just a few pounds to make, to almost double the image quality of a multi-million pound electron microscope.

We then used it to determine the structure of a protein called ferritin, a small protein cage which stores the iron that cells need to function, and a particularly tough structure to determine. Read more

What’s in a work space? Lori Passmore and her images of science

Dr Lori Passmore is head of the Mechanisms of Macromolecular Machines group in the Structural Studies Division at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB). She showed Isabel Baker around her shiny new office where she approaches biological questions using structural biology methods.

Lori Passmore in her office

Coasters

Glass coaster containing EM gridThese coasters were made by a friend of mine who does glass fusing. She’s put some actual electron microscopy (EM) grids, which we use to image proteins, inside the glass. Each grid is 3mm in diameter, made of a disc of metal such as copper or gold, often with a layer of carbon on top. To use these grids in the lab, we pipette a few microlitres of protein in solution on top and remove the excess solution, leaving a thin layer containing the protein. For cryo-EM – where we freeze the samples at liquid nitrogen temperature to preserve them in the vacuum of the microscope – the carbon has holes in it. When you freeze the grid, the protein molecules are trapped in ice suspended across the holes. We then image the protein, in the suspension of ice across the grid. Read more