The Inorganic Signature of Life (completed)

In 2007, Dr. Teresa Woodruff and colleagues at Northwestern University and the University of Chicago received the prestigious Medical Research Award from the W. M. Keck Foundation.  The research team is composed of reproductive biologists, synthetic chemists and imaging specialists whose common objective is to understand the process of fertilization from a novel, interdisciplinary perspective.

Principal investigators in this endeavor include Dr. Teresa Woodruff (Northwestern University), Dr. Thomas O'Halloran (Northwestern University), Dr. Vinayak Dravid (Northwestern University) and Dr. Jonathan Silverstein (University of Chicago).  W. M. Keck Graduate Scholars Alison Kim and Richard Ahn are spearheading the research effort.  The team recently welcomed graduate students Miranda Bernhardt and Betty Kong.

Until recently, the transition metals, such as iron, copper, and zinc, have been overlooked by biologists as integral components of a cell.  In fact, the concentrations of the transition metals in any given cell are carefully controlled by a vast network of membrane-bound and cytoplasmic proteins.  The Keck research team is studying the physiological role of these metals within the context of the egg, the "mother cell": the single cell from which all cells of the body originate.

The research team is currently imaging the cellular dynamics of the transition metals by a variety of imaging methods, primarily live-cell confocal microscopy and electron microscopy.  Northwestern University is proud to house a unique scanning transmission electron microscope (STEM) that is equipped with two detectors for energy-dispersive spectroscopy (EDS), which gives an unprecendented collection angle of ~0.8 Sr.  This enables our research team to image notoriously difficult-to-image metals such as zinc at the extremely high resolution provided by electron microscopy.

This work was funded by a W. M. Keck Foundation Medical Research Award.

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