2021Raimondi Review

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Raimondi, Vittoria / Grinzato, Alessandro. A basic introduction to single particles cryo-electron microscopy. 2022, AIMS Biophysics, Vol. 9, No. 1. p. 5-20


In the last years, cryogenic-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) underwent the most impressive improvement compared to other techniques used in structural biology, such as X-ray crystallography and NMR. Electron microscopy was invented nearly one century ago but, up to the beginning of the last decades, the 3D maps produced through this technique were poorly detailed, justifying the term “blobbology” to appeal to cryo-EM. Recently, thanks to a new generation of microscopes and detectors, more efficient algorithms, and easier access to computational power, single particles cryo-EM can routinely produce 3D structures at resolutions comparable to those obtained with X-ray crystallography. However, unlike X-ray crystallography, which needs crystallized proteins, cryo-EM exploits purified samples in solution, allowing the study of proteins and protein complexes that are hard or even impossible to crystallize. For these reasons, single-particle cryo-EM is often the first choice of structural biologists today. Nevertheless, before starting a cryo-EM experiment, many drawbacks and limitations must be considered. Moreover, in practice, the process between the purified sample and the final structure could be trickier than initially expected. Based on these observations, this review aims to offer an overview of the principal technical aspects and setups to be considered while planning and performing a cryo-EM experiment.




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