The molecular process behind a killer hole-punch has been revealed through a unique combination of technology—which Monash University call their ‘21st Century microscope’.
Michelle Dunstone and her colleagues have spent years studying the pore-forming proteins that our immune cells use to punch holes into and destroy damaged cells and invading bacteria. They’ve used a vast range of complementary techniques from protein crystallography to electron microscopy and computational biology.
Recently for the first time she was able to see these hole-punching proteins at work thanks to a Monash project that takes data captured by the synchrotron and cryo-electron microscopy, crunches it with the MASSIVE super computer, and then visualises it in 3D in real time. Then she can explore each atom in the protein using 3D goggles in the CAVE 2 immersive display facility.
“This combination of technologies is analogous to the light source, focusing knobs and eyepiece of a conventional microscope, but it lets scientists see a lot more,” says Ian Smith, Monash’s Vice-Provost of Research and Research Infrastructure.
Scientists using the ‘microscope’ are:
- looking for signs of Huntington’s disease in the brain’s wiring, which takes two hours instead of two months when the data are visualised in the CAVE 2
- mapping the architecture of our kidneys— developing 3D models of a kidney’s vascular system in just three to four minutes with the real-time feedback between MASSIVE and the imaging and medical beamline at the Australian Synchrotron
- working with Jansen to find new drugs for lupus—looking for relationships in their data using visual displays.