With Leann Tilley

July 11 / 65

Professor Leann Tilley has just joined the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the Bio21 Molecular Science and Biotechnology Institute, the University of Melbourne. She is an ARC Australian Professorial Fellow and Deputy Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coherent X-ray Science (CXS).

Seeing is believing: New microscopies are driving a revolution in cell biology

The last decade has witnessed a revolution in cell biology based on radical improvements in imaging technologies. New super-resolution light microscopy techniques are providing views of live cells at levels of resolution never before achieved. And new electron microscopy and synchrotron-based x-ray microscopy methods are bridging the gap between the cellular and molecular levels. As Richard Feynman (Nobel Prize in Physics) once said: “It is very easy to answer many fundamental biological questions; you just look at the thing!”

New microscopy methods are transforming the biology arena by enabling studies of molecular machines in a whole cell context. These holistic approaches are needed to investigate the highly complex behaviours of cells. For Australia to be in the vanguard of this new age, we need access to a range of sophisticated microscopy methods. And cell biologists need to work with colleagues from the physical science to develop ever better imaging methods.

The Bio21 Institute houses one of the best Microscopy Platforms in Australia and the facilities are linked to impressive NMR and Mass Spectrometry Platforms. It is probably the best place in Australia to undertake research in molecular and cellular biology and is becoming a hub for imaging scientists. 

My group will use the Bio21 Institute's impressive facilities to study one of mankind's major pathogens. The malaria parasite, Plasmodium falciparum, kills about 780 thousand children every year. We want to image the machinery that the parasite uses to modify the red blood cells it invades, thereby causing disease pathology. We are also interested in the remarkable shape change that prepares the malaria parasite for transmission from a human to a mosquito. And we are investigating the mechanism of action of the antimalarial drug, artemisinin, with a view to designing better drugs. The new imaging methods are providing breathtaking views of the insides of malaria parasites and leading to new strategies to combat this major human scourge. I would like to further develop the imaging capability at the Bio21 Institute and will work with colleagues - particularly physics friends from the CXS - to develop new imaging methods and instrumentation.


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