Tom Terwilliger and Team Develop Technique to Improve Resolution of Cryo-electron Microscopy

Tom Terwilliger and Team Develop Technique to Improve Resolution of Cryo-electron Microscopy

New Mexico Consortium (NMC) scientist Tom Terwilliger and an international team including scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory, Baylor College of Medicine, Cambridge University, and Berkeley Lab have developed a technique to improve the resolution of cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM).

Cryo-EM maps are a type of 3D molecular structure map that are created by taking many microscopy images and applying image-processing software. For decades researchers have used cryo-EM maps as a tool to learn how the molecules within animals, plants, microbes, and viruses function. This has become a mainstream structural biology technique because it allows scientists to study biomolecules at near-atomic resolution. For example, it is important in studying dynamic biological processes, protein structure, protein complexes and aggregates, and large virus assemblies.

In this study, researchers have created a new computer algorithm that improves the quality of the 3D molecular structure maps generated with cryo-electron microscope. How does the algorithm work? It takes the molecular maps and sharpens them by filtering the data based on existing knowledge of what molecules look like. It also estimates and removes unwanted and irrelevant data or noise in order to create a more clear image.

Terwilliger and colleagues recently published this study in the journal Nature Methods. To read their paper and learn more about this exciting research see: Improvement of cryo-EM maps by density modification.

To read more see the Berkeley Lab news article by Aliya Kovner at: New Algorithm Sharpens Focus of World’s Most Powerful Microscopes


Image credit at top of page goes to Veronica Falconieri/National Cancer Institute. This composite image of the enzyme lactase shows how cryo-EM’s resolution has improved dramatically in recent years. The older image is to the left, more recent to the right.

Article by Carrie Talus.