Protocols in Current Issue
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0 Q&A 627 Views Dec 5, 2022

Cryo-electron tomography (cryo-ET) is a formidable technique to observe the inner workings of vitrified cells at a nanometric resolution in near-native conditions and in three-dimensions. One consequent drawback of this technique is the sample thickness, for two reasons: i) achieving proper vitrification of the sample gets increasingly difficult with sample thickness, and ii) cryo-ET relies on transmission electron microscopy (TEM), requiring thin samples for proper electron transmittance (<500 nm). For samples exceeding this thickness limit, thinning methods can be used to render the sample amenable for cryo-ET. Cryo-focused ion beam (cryo-FIB) milling is one of them and despite having hugely benefitted the fields of animal cell biology, virology, microbiology, and even crystallography, plant cells are still virtually unexplored by cryo-ET, in particular because they are generally orders of magnitude bigger than bacteria, viruses, or animal cells (at least 10 μm thick) and difficult to process by cryo-FIB milling. Here, we detail a preparation method where abaxial epidermal onion cell wall peels are separated from the epidermal cells and subsequently plunge frozen, cryo-FIB milled, and screened by cryo-ET in order to acquire high resolution tomographic data for analyzing the organization of the cell wall.

0 Q&A 1479 Views Nov 5, 2022

Cryo-focused ion beam (FIB) milling of vitrified specimens is emerging as a powerful method for in situ specimen preparation. It allows for the preservation of native and near-native conditions in cells, and can reveal the molecular structure of protein complexes when combined with cryo-electron tomography (cryo-ET) and sub-tomogram averaging. Cryo-FIB milling is often performed on plunge-frozen specimens of limited thickness. However, this approach may have several disadvantages, including low throughput for cells that are small, or at low concentration, or poorly distributed across accessible areas of the grid, as well as for samples that may adopt a preferred orientation. Here, we present a detailed description of the “Waffle Method” protocol for vitrifying thick specimens followed by a semi-automated milling procedure using the Thermo Fisher Scientific (TFS) Aquilos 2 cryo-FIB/scanning electron microscope (SEM) instrument and AutoTEM Cryo software to produce cryo-lamellae. With this protocol, cryo-lamellae may be generated from specimens, such as microsporidia spores, yeast, bacteria, and mammalian cells, as well as purified proteins and protein complexes. An experienced lab can perform the entire protocol presented here within an 8-hour working day, resulting in two to three cryo-lamellae with target thicknesses of 100–200 nm and dimensions of approximately 12 μm width and 15–20 μm length. For cryo-FIB/SEMs with particularly low-contamination chambers, the protocol can be extended to overnight milling, resulting in up to 16 cryo-lamellae in 24 h.

Graphical abstract:

0 Q&A 2906 Views Nov 20, 2020
Electron cryotomography (cryo-ET) is an increasingly popular technique to study cellular structures and macromolecules in situ. Due to poor penetration of electrons through thick biological samples, the vitreously frozen samples for cryo-ET need to be thin. For frozen-hydrated cells, such samples can be produced either by cryomicrotomy or cryo-FIB-milling. As a result, a tomogram of such a sample contains information of a small fraction of the entire cell volume, making it challenging to image rare structures in the cell or to determine the distribution of scattered structures. Here, we describe the tools and workflow that we designed to facilitate serial cryomicrotomy, which makes possible the exploration of a larger volume of individual cells at molecular resolution. We successfully used serial cryomicrotomy to locate and image the Dam1/DASH complex located at microtubule plus ends inside mitotic Saccharomyces cerevisiae cells.

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