Studying biology at a molecular level is often really hard.
Biological processes require the coordinated efforts of hundreds of proteins — the molecular machines encoded by our genetic material. Each protein needs to engage in a particular interaction or reaction at a very specific place and time. It’s complicated.
For example, mitosis, the process by which a cell divides into two, involves around 600 different proteins! Trying to sort out where each needs to be at a given time, in what quantity, and why, is an arduous task.
Thanks to a new technique developed by scientists at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL), which combines a quantitative microscopy method with various computational analyses, our job just got a little easier.
This method can produce a 4D (that’s 3D plus time!) map of every single protein involved in a given process, and is first being applied to mitosis. Here's an example:
You can check out the resulting computer model, called the , now — simply choose any combination of proteins from those available (so far) in a drop-down menu to see how they interact at every stage of mitosis.
It’s still going to take several years to gather data for all of the roughly 600 proteins involved in mitosis, but it’s a huge step forward for efficiently analyzing protein dynamics.
Even better, this technique can be applied to many fundamental biological processes, which will certainly aid our understanding of how these processes go wrong in human disease and in other organisms. For example, scientists are already considering building a Plant Cell Atlas. Goodbye snapshots, hello movies!