Canadian scientists have recreated a famous painting from Vermeer on the microscale by using a new protein patterning technique. In fact, they've used a new laser method to draw protein pictures. And to illustrate the precision of their protein patterning technique, the research team reproduced 'Girl with a Pearl Earring,' a masterwork of Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer. But the real goal of this work is to replicate the brain's complex cellular environment. The research team said their new laser method is 'a major discovery, since the new laser technology can encourage and guide the growth of finicky nerve cells.' But read more...
You can see above two very different pictures. On the left is a reproduction of the Girl with a Pearl Earring painting by Johannes Vermeer circa 1665. This painting measured 44.5 x 39 cm. (Credit: Wikipedia) On the right, you can see how the Canadian research team reproduced this masterwork "in the miniature dimension of 200 microns wide or about the thickness of two hairs." Credit: Santiago Costantino, Université de Montréal) Here is a link to a larger version. Anyway, I'm pretty sure that the vast majority of you prefer the original to the copy.
This research work has been led by Santiago Costantino(page in French), a scientist at the Université de Montréal and Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital Research Centre. On his personal homepage, you'll discover that Costantino also used his method to create a micro-image of Albert Einstein.
Here are some quotes from Costantino about this research project. "We have created a system that can fabricate complex methods to grow cells. [...] We see this technique as being very relevant to neuroscience and immunology research. With this system, we laid down a chemical gradient to guide the growth of nerve fiber, which is very useful in studying nerve damage and repair. [...] The flexibility, precision and ease of this technique will hopefully lead to increased access in protein patterning, which could lead to major advances in science. [...] Our next goal is to extend laser-assisted protein adsorption by photobleaching to fabricate more complex protein combinations and distributions. We want to improve our imitation of the chemical environment found in the early stages of developing organisms."
This research work has been published in Lab on a Chip under the title "Patterning protein concentration using laser-assisted adsorption by photobleaching, LAPAP" on October 30, 2008. Please note that LAPAP is an acronym for "laser-assisted adsorption by photobleaching" even if it's not apparent from the title of the article.
Here is a link to the abstract, which should be understandable only by specialists. "The study of cellular responses to changes in the spatial distribution of molecules in development, immunology and cancer, requires reliable methods to reproduce in vitro the precise distributions of proteins found in vivo. Here we present a straightforward method for generating substrate-bound protein patterns which has the simplicity required to be implemented in typical life science laboratories. The method exploits photobleaching of fluorescently tagged molecules to generate patterns and concentration gradients of protein with sub-micron spatial resolution. We provide an extensive characterization of the technique and demonstrate, as proof of principle, axon guidance by gradients of substrate-bound laminin peptide generated in vitro using LAPAP.
Here is another link to the full paper. And here is an excerpt from the conclusions. "The studies presented demonstrate the versatility and potential of this simple approach. Nevertheless, chemotaxis in a living organism implies complex distributions of a plethora of guidance cues and to understand and manipulate this requires a means to generate more complex protein distributions and combinations. Our current studies aim to extend LAPAP to link more than one guidance cue by increasing the number of fluorescent tags and laser lines, and additionally to carrying out functional chemotaxis assays using full-length proteins. In conclusion, we report a novel assay for precise and flexible generation of protein distributions on cell culture substrates. LAPAP provides a relatively straight forward method that allows the generation of graded distributions of substrate bound protein at subcellular levels of resolution."
Sources: University of Montreal news release, November 11, 2008; and various websites
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