Objective 1. Pushing the boundaries of knowledge and boosting biomedical innovations

With the cryo-EM technologies provided by DCI, our scientists will study the atomic architecture and mechanisms of molecules that are vital for the structure and proper function of living cells. DCI will also offer cryo-electron tomography (cryo-ET) capabilities that will take molecular research to the cellular level, giving scientists the ability to understand intracellular processes, entire cells, tissue and biological organs in their full complexity.

Objective 2. Taking cryo-EM technology to the next level

To ensure DCI remains at the forefront of its domain, we aim to advance the technology behind cryo-EM itself. Drawing on the vast technological know-how available in the Lake Geneva region, we will develop a cryo-EM pipeline that outperforms current standards in terms of efficiency and resolution by orders of magnitude.

-      Instrumentation: DCI will draw on principles from physics and materials science to develop new technology for investigating frozen biological specimens through electron microscopy. This development will streamline and accelerate the workflows in cryo-EM, increase the possibilities of correlative investigations by strengthening the bridges between cryo-EM and complementary methods such as light microsocopy or FIB-SEM, and extend cryo-EM to be able to also study smaller and more flexible particles.

-      Data collection: DCI will integrate innovative high-speed camera technology developed at the Paul Scherrer Institute into a modified cryo-EM instrument. This will significantly speed up data collection, shortening the length of cryo-EM imaging sessions from a few days to less than one hour. The camera’s improved signal-to-noise ratio will also increase the cryo-EM instrument’s resolution.

-      Image analysis: During cryo-EM sessions, scientists record multiple terabytes of data containing images of millions of individual protein particles. They then use computers to reconstruct the protein’s 3D structures at high resolution. We will work to improve this process by developing better algorithms and by implementing a fully automated data processing pipeline that can cope with the very high speed of data collection made possible by the aforementioned camera technology.

Objective 3. Training the next generation of scientists

We will expand human capacity in the field of bioimaging by creating new tenure-track assistant professor positions. We will also train PhD and postdoctoral students on how to use cryo-EM technology to address some of the most important challenges in the area of biomedical research. The next generation of scientists will thus be prepared to further develop and use cryo-EM technology.

For students from other universities, we will organize periodic workshops, seminars and hands-on training sessions on image-processing technology, sample preparation and equipment operation. We will also host visiting professors on a regular basis.