Umeå University becomes national resource for advanced electron microscopy in Sweden

Umeå University in Sweden will be a national resource for advanced electron microscopy thanks to a contribution of SEK 57 million. Scientists across the country will be able to use the techniques for research, including detailed studies of microorganisms that cause infectious diseases.

“Sweden needs a national platform with a state-of-the-art electron microscopy facility to meet the future needs of visualization in medical, chemical and biological research. Umeå will now become a central node in a national network of research groups working together to improve the methods. This is not only a strength for our researchers, but also for the university as a whole,” says Lena Gustafsson, Vice-Chancellor at Umeå University.

Linda Sandblad, postdoctoral research fellow at the Department of molecular biology, group leader at UCMR, Umeå UniversityN
Linda Sandblad, postdoctoral research fellow at the Department of molecular biology, group leader at UCMR, Umeå UniversityN

The Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation is investing SEK 37 million to develop the platform. The main applicants are Bernt Eric Uhlin and Linda Sandblad, Umeå Centre for Microbial Research (UCMR), who along with colleagues at Umeå University, Karolinska Institutet, Linköping University, Lund University and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences have developed plans for a national platform in Umeå.

Umeå University is also supporting the venture with another SEK 15 million. Moreover, the Kempe Foundation is investing SEK 5 million, which allows the acquisition of the most advanced and powerful equipment for electron microscopy.

“Thanks to the funding we can make a major upgrade of our existing technology, we will, for example, be able to create 3D electron microscopy images with the best possible resolution and visualize molecular details of bacteria and other cells,” says Linda Sandblad, group leader at UCMR and director of Umeå Core Facility Electron Microscopy (UCEM), located in the Umeå University’s Chemical Biological Centre (KBC), where the new equipment will be included.

“This new grant further strengthens the research environment at Umeå Unversity and should promote collaboration both locally and nationally over faculty and university boundaries,” said Per Gardeström professor and scientific coordinator for KBC. “It will hopefully also help to attract additional top researchers to Umeå.”

The funding will be used to enhance two different techniques. The first technique is called cryo-electron microscopy, which makes it possible to study the smallest building blocks of life – for example proteins and lipid membranes – such as they occur in their natural water-soluble environment. The resolution is at atomic level. With the second technique, electron tomography, it is possible to visualise and analyse a sample in three dimensions. A sample with, for example, bacterial cytoskeleton can be rotated in the electron microscope and visualised from different angles.

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“We are very pleased to be entrusted with this opportunity to establish a national resource here for research using advanced electron microscopy,” says Bernt Eric Uhlin, professor of medical microbiology and director of MIMS (Laboratory for Molecular Infection Medicine Sweden), which is the Swedish node in the Nordic EMBL Partnership for Molecular Medicine, with support from the Swedish Research Council. “By visualising at very high resolution, for example, protein complexes and membrane structures in microorganisms causing infectious diseases, we will learn more how about they are structured and what mechanisms and functions they fulfil in the microbial cells.”

Two new electron microscopes and tomography equipment will be purchased to the national platform thanks to new funding. The techniques will be very important to a large number of research projects conducted at Swedish universities. It will also further strengthen the international research centres in Umeå: UCMR, MIMS and Umeå Plant Science Centre (UPSC) with the Berzelius Centre for Forest Biotechnology.

National partners and co-applicants in the application for funding to the national infrastructure for electron microscopy:

  • Rishikesh Bhalerao, Professor, Department of Forest Genetics and Plant Physiology, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
  • Stefan Björklund, Professor, Department of Medical Biochemistry and Biophysics, Umeå University
  • Markus Grebe, Professor Department of Plant Physiology, Umeå University
  • Vasili Hauryliuk, Assoc. Professor Group Leader MIMS, Umeå University
  • Richard Lundmark, Group Leader MIMS, Umeå University
  • Ruth Palmer, Professor Department of Molecular Biology, Umeå University
  • Elisabeth Sauer-Eriksson, Professor, Department of Chemistry, Umeå University
  • Sun Nyunt Wai, Professor, Department of Molecular Biology, Umeå University
  • Nora Ausmees, Assoc. Professor, Department of Molecular Cell Biology, Lund University
  • Birgitta Henriques-Normark, Professor, Karolinska Institute, Stockholm
  • Karl-Eric Magnusson, Professor Department of Medical Microbiology, Linköping University

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