Pushing the limits of observation: Nanoscopy now available at IRB Barcelona

Tubulin, standard Antibody staining (Credit: C. Hellriegel / Carl Zeiss Microscopy GmbH, Jena)

Tubulin, standard Antibody staining (Credit: C. Hellriegel / Carl Zeiss Microscopy GmbH, Jena)


In research, thorough investigation and detailed information are everything. The difference between a functional and dysfunctional cellular structure can be in the scale of nanometers and being able to perceive this difference can change the way we go about tackling a scientific question. To provide the scientific community with the means to perform microscopy at the highest resolution available, IRB Barcelona has recently invested in state-of-the-art Super Resolution (SR) technology, or Nanoscopy, with the acquisition of a Carl Zeiss Elyra PS1 Airyscan system, which enables 3D SR microscopy and SR for in vivo samples.

The Elyra-Airyscan equipment responds to the strategic commitment of the Institute to SR, and it has been partly funded through a competitive ERDF grant backed by the labs of Gonzalez, Stracker, Nebreda and Lüders. It is a singular machine that combines four flavours of advanced fluorescence microscopy: confocal microscopy, Airyscan (confocal with improved resolution and live imaging), 3D-SIM (structured illumination), and PALM/STORM (localization-based microscopy). “There are other SR microscopes in Barcelona, but both the Structured Illumination and Airyscan modalities make this system the first of its kind in the city,” says Julien Colombelli, the manager of the Advanced Microscopy Facility (ADM). The unique combination of the four modalities is unprecedented in Europe, and it will be very useful for some research projects as it allows the correlation of images acquired by distinct approaches.

SR will enable better observation of the cell cycle, asymmetric division, DNA replication, and nuclear and cytoskeleton organisation. The impairment of these processes is related to a range of conditions, such as cancer, diseases associated with neuronal development, and infertility. “We expect SR to become a routine asset for at least half the labs at IRB Barcelona,” says Colombelli. “PALM/STORM SR, the flavour that offers the highest resolution (down to 20 nm), might be more demanding in terms of sample preparation, training, data analysis, interpretation, etc., but we will work alongside the researchers so they can incorporate it into their routine research. The other modalities are straightforward to work with and are now available,” he adds.

To accommodate the new microscope, the ADM facility has been extended. It has expanded into a new lab on the other side of the corridor to its core space—where the new microscope is housed. “This system requires an environment that is tightly regulated in terms of temperature, humidity, and vibrations, etc. To ensure this, we’ve chosen to install it in the space we know best,” explains Colombelli. Furthermore, the number of staff in the ADM facility will increase through the recruitment of a specialist. The equipment was installed at IRB Barcelona at the end of 2017. The system is now up-and-running, and only the microscopy (PALM/STORM) module, which increments 10-fold the resolution of a conventional microscope, will require additional time for fine-tuning.