A bloom of crystals

Black and white electron microscope image of Anopheles mosquito gametes, looking much like feathery fern leaf stencils
Looking more like feathery fern leaf stencils, these crystal blooms were an artful accompaniment to mosquito reproductive cells being viewed at EMBL’s Electron Microscopy Core Facility. Credit: Martin Schorb/EMBL

Sometimes hunting a malaria parasite involves a search through a garden of blooms – crystal blooms, that is. This image, which seems more like fern leaf stencils, represents an impressive combination of electron microscopy with a relatively new software tool, SerialEM. This has helped scientists to zoom in on a lacy bloom of crystals formed on a specimen that contained reproductive cells (gametes) from a type of mosquito called Anopheles – the genus that can carry the malaria parasite. The size of the specimen is approximately 100 µm.

Lead citrate, which is used for staining electron microscopy samples, most likely caused the artful bloom. It was captured by Application Engineer Martin Schorb at EMBL’s Electron Microscopy Core Facility. Marla Katharina Herr from Heidelberg University Hospital prepared the specimen in collaboration with Marek Cyrklaff from Heidelberg University.

Martin and collaborators wrote about SerialEM software, as well as py-EM – another new software module they developed – in Nature Methods in 2019. SerialEM is versatile software to automate control of electron microscopes and cameras. The py-EM module – a collection of Python functions – interfaces with SerialEM to create feedback pipelines in specimen-specific image analysis. Py-EM and the applied workflows were developed at EMBL. Together, the two software tools make it possible to image every entity in a specimen (including nearby crystal blooms) in a controlled way.

Credit: Martin Schorb/EMBL

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