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Life Science Imaging

Life Science Imaging

Thomas van de Kamp

Internal structures of small biological samples are often difficult to visualize by traditional morphological imaging techniques like light and electron microscopy. Synchrotron X-ray imaging allows non-destructive examination of millimeter-sized objects and became a powerful tool for various fields in biology. Synchrotron-based X-ray microtomography is already considered a "methodological milestone in microanatomical research" [1]. The construction of specialized imaging beamlines and the development of automated high-speed setups will provide faster acquisition of data and will open synchrotrons for an even wider community of biologists.

At ANKA’s TOPO-TOMO beamline, several microtomographic scans of weevils have been performed. The volume data extracted from the scans served as basis for the creation of interactive 3D reconstructions. These reconstructions proved valuable to examine both anatomy and functional morphology of these small beetles. The experiments led to the first-time discovery of a screw-and-nut system in a living organism [2]. At present we are developing a fully-automated setup for high-speed tomography, including sample exchanger, on-line assessment and data-driven process control. This new system is part of the joined German-Russian UFO Project and will allow a high sample throughput and facilitate even comprehensive comparative studies of biological samples.

As a newly developed method, synchrotron-radiation computed laminography was recently established at ANKA and is used to scan large flat objects. In paleontology, it was first employed in collaboration with scientists from ESRF (Grenoble, France) and the Musee de l’Histoire Naturelle (Paris, France) to investigate the morphology and inner architecture of the pelvic girdle and hind-limb bones of the type specimen of Eupodophis descouensi. This fossil snake is a representative of three extinct genera, for which at least one hind-limb is known. The uniqueness of that specimen completely excluded the use of invasive investigations. Our results indicate that limb regression in Eupodophis was not due to a qualitative alteration of growth but, more likely, to a global decrease in growth rate or to a shortening of growth duration [3].



[1] Betz, O. et al. (2007): J Microsc 227: 51-71.

[2] van de Kamp, T. et al. (2011): Science 333: 52.

[3] Houssaye, A. et al (2011): J Vert Paleo  31: 2-7.