While the value of cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) is becoming increasingly apparent in biomedical research and structural biology, accessibility continues to lag behind growing enthusiasm for the technique. This is particularly true when it comes to getting time at shared imaging facilities such as national labs. Researchers need increased onsite access to easy-to-use cryo-EM equipment. This would aid in the generation of high-quality samples that can be sent out for data collection. It would also reduce the demand on shared, higher-resolution tools.
Cryo-EM sample preparation and qualification challenges
Sample preparation continues to be one of the main difficulties of consistent, high-quality cryo-EM analysis. From inconsistent ice thickness to challenges with sample distribution, there is a slew of issues that can disqualify a sample from further analysis. While there is an ongoing effort to optimize sample preparation, it is equally critical to have quick, reliable sample qualification and screening.
The faster a sample can be disqualified, the faster a new sample can be prepared.
Qualification is particularly important for labs that use external or shared cryo-EM facilities. Between sample validation, transit, and wait times, experiments can rapidly balloon in length if samples are routinely rejected due to poor quality.
A better way to optimize cryo-EM samples
Luckily, the latest generation of cryo-transmission electron microscopes (cryo-TEMs) includes more affordable, easier-to-use tools dedicated to sample optimization. Our recently launched Thermo Scientific Tundra Cryo-TEM can ease the burden of routine analysis (such as sample qualification) from more expensive, higher-resolution tools. Its simplified sample-loading cycle provides researchers with a new, iterative way of working that provides the instant feedback they need to quickly optimize a sample’s biochemistry. It also includes several features that improve usability, empowering anyone to use cryo-EM, even researchers who are new to the technique.
When sample optimization is shifted away from shared instrumentation, everyone benefits. Researchers save time and money by only sending out analysis-ready samples to national/core imaging facilities. Meanwhile, the owners of these high-resolution tools are less burdened by routine qualification and screening, opening up more instrument time for higher impact, valuable experiments.
Sarah McGann is a Senior Market Development Manager at Thermo Fisher Scientific. Written in collaboration with Alex Ilitchev, Science Writer at Thermo Fisher Scientific.