Texas Tech University

Mechanical Engineering Faculty Member Awarded Grant by National Institutes of Health

Amanda Bowman

November 2, 2017


The grant will allow Craig Snoeyink to build a high-speed, 3-D, super-resolution microscope and develop the needed imaging software to analyze the results.

Craig Snoeyink
Craig Snoeyink

Craig Snoeyink, an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering in the Edward E. Whitacre Jr. College of Engineering, has been awarded a grant by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) worth $385,900 that will allow him to build a high-speed, 3-D, super-resolution microscope and develop the imaging software to analyze the data.

The microscope will help Snoeyink reach the full potential of a technique he created years ago.

"When working on my doctorate, I invented a microscopy technique that attaches to a microscope, and, when looking at very small fluorescent particles or molecules, I can tell their locations in three dimensions with high accuracy," Snoeyink said. "But, there were some problems. So, I applied to this grant opportunity to buy some equipment that will help me address those problems and actually build a microscope that can see the full potential of the technique."

Snoeyink's technique will benefit biological researchers, and the grant was given to support biological research at medical universities that don't have as much support in that area.

The super-resolution microscope will allow biological researchers to more easily and accurately see how DNA strands coil, which could lead to interesting breakthroughs in the future.

"The microscope will be a tool for people to use to determine the 3-D position of cells within a couple of nanometers," Snoeyink said. "When DNA coils, it does so at a couple different length scales. The first time it coils, it coils around histones, which are about 10 nanometers across. Then, it coils around and forms a whole chain of them, and then that can coil around on itself and form something that's about 30 nanometers across.

"Biological researchers look at the histones by taking fluorescent molecules and attaching them to the parts of the DNA they want. So, we'll be able to see with extreme accuracy how DNA coils and measure it. What they think is, how DNA coils up is directly related to how genes are expressed. You think mutations in DNA affect genes, but it could be that there's a mutation somewhere else that's affecting how the strand coils. So, because it's coiling differently, it doesn't express a gene, which means you have a sickness. It would help people better understand how DNA coiling interacts with gene expression that causes disease. But, that is still 5 to 10 years away."

Snoeyink will be working with Petar Grozdanov, a research assistant professor in the Department of Cell Biology and Biochemistry at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center's School of Medicine and director of the Image Analysis and Molecular Biology Core Facilities, and Clinton MacDonald, a professor in the department, in building the microscope.

"Since Anton van Leeuwenhoek's work on light microscopy in the 17th century, science has been limited by the physics of light," Grozdanov said. "In other words, objects that are less than 0.2 micrometers apart (1/300th the width of a human hair) cannot be seen. Anything smaller will look like a single merged blob. The groundbreaking work of Snoeyink allows scientists to see objects that are only 0.01 micrometer apart (1/6000th of the width of a human hair). In addition, this microscope works very quickly, which allows monitoring of many fast-moving biological processes with unprecedented precision.

"Clint and I are very excited by the development of this new high-resolution microscopy tool. We will be involved in the setup of a biological model that can test the resolution limits of the new microscope system by looking inside cancer cells. I will also provide support and access to the microscopes in the Image Analysis Core Facility at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center for testing and optimization of the new system."

Find Texas Tech news, experts and story ideas at Texas Tech Today Media Resources or follow us on Twitter.