Cellular Nano-Imaging Consortium (CNIC)

The Cellular Nano-Imaging Consortium (CNIC) is an affiliation of scientists with interests in Super-Resolution Optical Microscopy managed under the auspices of the Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence for Coherent X-ray Science.

Optical microscopy methods have recently undergone breathtaking developments, increasing resolution many fold. The new techniques use techniques such as interfering light beams and photo-switchable fluorescent molecules coupled with sophisticated data analysis to permit imaging at a level that is well beyond the limits of conventional optical microscopy. Access to the new nano-imaging technology is critical for ongoing scientific competitiveness of Australian scientists.

Answering the major medical and biotechnology questions of the 21st century will be heavily reliant on the use of advanced imaging techniques. Conventional light microscopy can be used with hydrated (and in some cases live) cells but has limited resolution. For example cell membranes are only ~6 nm thick while light microscopy is limited to resolving 200 - 250 nm in the lateral plane and ~600 nm in the vertical direction. Now, new light microscopy techniques are being developed that use optical tricks to overcome the “diffraction barrier”. These “super-resolution” optical methods are capable of providing complementary information -on comparable spatial scales- to those provided by other modes such as electron and X-ray microscopy, and are providing cellular detail that was beyond imagining only a few years ago. This is underscored by a recent special issue of Nature (June 4, 2009), which profiled “five machines that are changing how biologists view the world” (1-4). The new techniques include: 3-D Structured Illumination Microscopy (3D-SIM), Stimulated Emission Depletion (STED) Microscopy, Photo-Activated Localisation Microscopy (PALM), Stochastic Optical Reconstruction Microscopy (STORM) and Coherent Anti-Stokes Raman Scattering (CARS) Microscopy. In addition, with the field moving ahead so rapidly, new techniques are constantly appearing in the literature. Super-resolution optical microscopies, in conjunction with existing (and developing) electron and X-ray techniques, therefore form a group of correlative techniques capable of providing exquisite spatial detail.

CNIC brings together institutions and research leaders with cross-disciplinary expertise and an interest in using and/or developing nano-imaging optical methods. It provides on-line access to information about conventional and super-resolution optical imaging techniques and what resources are currently (and potentially) available to interested parties. Through CNIC workshops and conference sessions will be organised to inform Australian scientists about new high-resolution imaging modalities. The consortium is managed to promote co-operation and synergies that promote the implementation and use of this diverse and exciting resource. CNIC aims to co-ordinate efforts to generate a super-resolution imaging capability in Victoria, providing information and access to the new techniques. CNIC is working to ensure that all Victorian scientists have access to the Super-Resolution Microscopy format they need to be competitive as international research leaders.

  1. Nature Magazine Microscopy Special, 2009
  2. K.R. Chi (2009) Nature Methods 6, 15-18 "Super-Resolution microscopy: breaking the limits"
  3. Nature Methods Special Feature: Method of the Year, 2008
  4. Wikipedia Entry on Microscopy