New electron-detecting camera speeds up bio-imaging

Upgraded cryo-electron microscopy tool available at CNSI at UCLA


by Wayne Lewis

With the addition of the Gatan K3 direct electron camera (inset), CNSI’s legendary Titan Krios microscope—the first of this kind in the world—continues to deliver excellence in cryoEM to users both at UCLA and institutes across the U.S. (Image credit: Marc Roseboro/CNSI)

A recent addition to instrumentation at the California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA offers researchers an enhanced atomic-level view of frozen biological samples, with improvements in both detail and speed compared to the previous generation of technology.

The Electron Imaging Center for NanoMachines is now home to a Gatan K3 camera, acquired with support from the National Institutes of Health. The state-of-the-art direct electron-detecting camera provides considerable benefits in solving the structures of proteins and nucleic acids. The instrument is already paying dividends for scientists and engineers applying cryo-electron microscopy to study the molecular workings underlying processes in living things.

“For our studies of amyloid oligomers and fibrils associated with neurodegeneration, signal strength compared to noise is invariably a limiting factor,” said David Eisenberg, UCLA’s Paul D. Boyer Professor of Molecular Biology and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. “The K3 camera can make the difference between failed and successful data collection.”

Researchers based on campus, at other academic institutions and in industry settings can gain access to the new imaging instrument. EICN has sustained its operations through the pandemic, although applications to use its equipment must comport with campus guidance designed to help control the spread of the coronavirus.

Operating at a high level of quantum efficiency, the K3 replaces previous cameras in EICN’s collection, providing a number of advantages:
  • at 24 megapixels, field of view increased by 60 percent
  • at 1,600 frames per second, 275 percent increase in speed
  • image acquisition time reduced by 70 percent
  • data acquisition increased by 200 percent per day, on average

“We strive to provide our users with leading technologies in electron microscopy; this is the latest example of our efforts in the area of cryoEM,” said Hong Zhou, UCLA Professor of Microbiology, Immunology & Molecular Genetics, and Director, Electron Imaging Center for Nanomachines.

The new electron detector is used in conjunction with the FEI Titan Krios transmission electron microscope — the most powerful commercially available instrument of its kind, capable of imaging single particles and collecting 3D data from thick samples down to sub-Ångström resolution.

Investigators interested in using the K3 and Titan Krios can email