Imaging Human Chromosomes with X-Rays

By Charlie Jeynes

It’s been a very busy month for me. In early June I traveled to Singapore funded by a Royal Society International travel grant. I worked with Andrew Bettiol, Frank Watts and Mike Zhaohong at the CIBA group (Centre of Ion beam Applications) in the National University of Singapore where they have a very fancy microscope which was worth the journey! The idea of the experiment was to image human chromosomes in an entirely new way. I tagged the ends of the chromosomes with gold nanoparticles and their microscope is very sensitive to visualising gold. The idea was to quantify how much gold there was in the chromosome as a way of measuring how old the cell was. It was a great experience, very productive and I hope to go back again soon.

In late June, I took the same samples and imaged them using a microprobe at the Diamond Light Source in Harwell, Oxfordshire. This place is very impressive. It’s a synchrotron so think a ringed doughnut but about three football pitches wide. It produces incredible bright light from accelerating electrons and this beam can make detailed maps of what elements are in a sample. So we now have beautiful images of human chromosomes according to how much Zinc, Copper and Gold (thanks to my added gold nanoparticles!) they have in them. Ultimately, both the experiments in Singapore and Diamond are going to provide data to include in mathematical models of human ageing. I’m busy writing the paper now… watch this space!

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