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Imaging Life Beyond the Diffraction Limit of Light

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Applications accepted all year round
  • Awaiting Funding Decision/Possible External Funding
    Awaiting Funding Decision/Possible External Funding

Project Description

Ever since its invention centuries ago, light microscopy has been hampered by the diffractive properties of light, which limit resolution to ca. 200 nm. This resolution limit precludes the visualization of many subcellular structures and has been a major obstacle in the imaging of biological processes. Recent advances in fluorophore excitation methods and image processing algorithms have overcome this limitation, increasing image resolution by as much as 10 times to about 20 nm. This new form of imaging is termed super-resolution microscopy.

Super-resolution microscopy opens unprecedented opportunities. We take advantage of this approach to image subcellular structures that regulate intracellular traffic. We focus on barrier mechanisms that regulate protein movement between the cell’s cytoplasm and the cilium, a tiny subcellular compartment involved in signal detection on cell surface. The cilium is just 250 nm across and so conventional light microscopy is not suitable visualize its inner architecture. The inner components of cilia are, however, essential for the function of many cells, tissues, and organs, including sensory neurons.

As the initial step, we applied super-resolution microscopy to image cilia of a simple unicellular organism, Tetrahymena. By localizing over 30 protein epitopes, we generated a 3D model of the cilia base. As the next step, we will extend these imaging studies to vertebrate tissues, focusing on the nervous system. We will use transgenic lines that express specialized fluorescent proteins suitable for super-resolution imaging in sensory neurons of zebrafish. This will make it possible to image vital structures, such as cilia or synaptic termini, in unprecedented detail and thereby gain insight into their function.

Science Graduate School
As a PhD student in one of the science departments at the University of Sheffield, you’ll be part of the Science Graduate School. You’ll get access to training opportunities designed to support your career development by helping you gain professional skills that are essential in all areas of science. You’ll be able to learn how to recognise good research and research behaviour, improve your communication abilities and experience the breadth of technologies that are used in academia, industry and many related careers. Visit to learn more.

Funding Notes

Please note that we have a number of fee scholarships available, please get into contact with Dr. Kai Erdmann in case you would like to know more: View Website


How good is research at University of Sheffield in Biological Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 44.90

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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