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Curr Opin Struct Biol. 2007 Apr;17(2):260-7. Epub 2007 Mar 29.

How electron cryotomography is opening a new window onto prokaryotic ultrastructure.

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Division of Biology, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA 91125, USA.


Electron cryotomography is an emerging technology that enables thin samples, including small intact prokaryotic cells, to be imaged in three dimensions in a near-native 'frozen-hydrated' state to a resolution sufficient to recognize very large macromolecular complexes in situ. Following years of visionary technology development by a few key pioneers, several laboratories are now using the technique to produce biological results of major significance in the field of prokaryotic ultrastructure. Recent discoveries have included the surprising generality and complexity of the cytoskeleton, the connectivity of key membrane compartments, the location and architecture of large macromolecular machines such as the ribosome and flagellar motors, and the structure of some extraordinary external appendages. Through further technology development, identification of the most revealing model systems and sustained effort, electron cryotomography is poised to help resolve many fundamentally important questions about prokaryotic ultrastructure.

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