After Rick Jellen, PhD, and Jeff Maughan, PhD, visited the David H. Murdock Research Institute (DHMRI) at the North Carolina Research Campus (NCRC) in Kannapolis in November of 2010, they knew they’d be back.
Jellen and Maughan are both associate professors in the College of Life Sciences at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. They returned in the summer of 2011 to use the DHMRI Microscopy Suite.
The DHMRI is the NCRC’s flagship institute that houses one of the largest and most advanced collections of scientific equipment in the world. The microscopy suite is one of six laboratories available to researchers on or off the NCRC. The other laboratories include analytical sciences (proteomics and metabolomics), genomics, bioinformatics, immune sciences, and an NMR facility, which houses a 950MHz Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) spectrometer. The NCRC’s 950MHz is the largest of its kind in the western hemisphere.
As a research institute, DHMRI is hybrid of an academic core laboratory and a contract research organization. “Our labs have more flexibility,” said Analytical Sciences Group Leader Sarah Schwartz, PhD. “We have projects that are research driven, projects where we are doing research development, and projects that are straight contract services. We do a lot of customized solutions that fit exactly what researchers are looking for.”
DHMRI has assisted with proof of principle work for grants as well as completed contracted projects from industry clients. They support the ongoing research of NCRC partners like Monsanto, Dole Foods and General Mills. In the three years since opening, DHMRI has contributed to a range of academic, corporate, and government research including:
- Whole genome sequencing for a variety of organisms and plants including fruits and vegetables;
- Protein and metabolite biomarker discovery and verification studies using mass spectrometry and NMR from complex matrices including plasma, serum, urine, saliva, and plant extracts;
- Small molecule, metabolite and protein quantitation using mass spectroscopy;
- Protein/metabolite structural elucidation using mass spectrometry and NMR.
“The institute is unique in the fact that we have a facility with all of this up-to-date instrumentation all under one roof,” said Schwartz. “It allows us to work seamlessly together.”
Seamless project management is a DHMRI priority. In the case of Jellen and Maughan, Schwartz worked with them along every step of their research including coordinating schedules with Scott Olenych, PhD, DHMRI’s representative from Carl Zeiss MicroImaging. Olenych, who is based in Richmond, Virginia, came to the DHMRI to train Jellen and Maughan on the Zeiss PALM laser capture microdissection system.
“I trained them to use the microscope with their samples to make sure they would get the quality of results that they were looking for,” Olenych said.
With the PALM system, Jellen and Maughan captured specific chromosomes from the variety of oats they were researching, a task not easily completed at other research laboratories where they’ve collaborated.
“There are a small number of oat lines that have a chromosome arm, but the other arm is missing,” Jellen said. “It looks totally different from all the other chromosomes. With the PALM system, what we can do is physically cut out and remove that chromosome arm. The chromosome arm is really interesting because that portion of the oat genome contains genes that are involved in winter and spring adaptation.”
Jellen and Maughan plan to return to the DHMRI with other chromosomal targets in oats and the Latin American crops they research. “We are interested in leveraging the technology,” Maughan said. “These crops are not important to US agriculture, but they certainly are to subsistence farmers in countries like Bolivia.”
The Microcopy Suite
The PALM microdissection system is one of several specialized microscopes in the DHMRI Microscopy Suite. The suite provides systems that can handle automated acquisition procedures, tissue analysis, photoactivation, and image processing.
The three laser scanning confocal microscopes are examples of the customizable capabilities available at DHMRI. “Each fits a specific niche,” Olenych said. “The Zeiss 5 LIVE acquires images very quickly and is useful for observing fast processes in cells. The 710NLO, a multi-photon microscope, is useful for observing very deeply into tissue. The workhorse microscope, the 710 laser scanning confocal, doesn’t image very fast or deeply, but instead can be configured in many ways and probably can handle about 80 percent of what people want to do.”
The DHMRI also offers a spinning disk confocal microscope. “It acquires images very quickly,” he said, “but uses low laser light which is important for live cell imaging.”
There are several upright microscopes for imaging slides in a motorized fashion that can take a series of images from slides and then stitch the images together to give the user a composite image. The inverted microscope is also equipped with an environmental chamber that keeps cells alive for days while on the microscope.
“The advantage of having this great variety of microscopes is that you can work on the exact microscope that is the best for your particular task as opposed to trying to fit your task to an available microscope,” Olenych said. “The overall advantage of the DHMRI is that they are really good at working individually with people and helping them to tailor their experiments to make sure they get the data they really need.”