Tan, Y. Z. & Rubinstein, J. L. Through-grid wicking enables high-speed cryoEM specimen preparation. Acta Crystallographica Section D: Structural Biology, 2020, 76, 1092-1103
Blotting times for conventional cryoEM specimen preparation complicate time-resolved studies and lead to some specimens adopting preferred orientations or denaturing at the air–water interface. Here, it is shown that solution sprayed onto one side of a holey cryoEM grid can be wicked through the grid by a glass-fiber filter held against the opposite side, often called the `back', of the grid, producing a film suitable for vitrification. This process can be completed in tens of milliseconds. Ultrasonic specimen application and through-grid wicking were combined in a high-speed specimen-preparation device that was named `Back-it-up' or BIU. The high liquid-absorption capacity of the glass fiber compared with self-wicking grids makes the method relatively insensitive to the amount of sample applied. Consequently, through-grid wicking produces large areas of ice that are suitable for cryoEM for both soluble and detergent-solubilized protein complexes. The speed of the device increases the number of views for a specimen that suffers from preferred orientations.