Atomic Force Microscopy
The group's primary tool is the atomic force microscope (AFM). We develop the technique and use it to study living systems and soft matter. Instrument developments include Torsional Tapping AFM (TTAFM), Torsional Resonance AFM in liquid, VideoAFM, large area high speed AFM, and STORMforce. Jamie co-founded Infinitesima Ltd. and collaborates with them to develop tools for the semiconductor market.
Many of the most exciting unanswered questions in Science lie in the area traditionally covered by the Life Sciences. Similarly, some of the greatest challenges facing our society, such as sustainability of food and energy supply, the threat of non-communicable diseases (e.g. cancer), and the emergence of antibiotic resistant pathogens (e.g. MRSA), will be solved through a better understanding of living systems. My group is part of the Physics of Life network, Imagine project, and the Florey Institute, working closely with biological and medical scientists to gain a better understanding of the dynamical behaviour, physical properties, and structural complexity of living systems.
The figure shows intact chromatophore vesicles from Rhodabacter sphaeroides, taken with conventional AFM (scale bar 20 nm).
The bacterial cell wall in life and death
This is a joint programme of work between myself and Prof Simon Foster in The School of Biosciences, UoS. Here is the summary from the application:
The bacterial cell wall is essential for viability. The synthesis of its major structural polymer, peptidoglycan, is the target of crucial antibiotics such as penicillin and vancomycin. The wall also forms the interface between pathogenic bacteria and their host. Despite this importance, we do not understand how the wall is able to maintain life and yet be dynamic to permit growth and division, how the wall allows appropriate interaction with the environment or even how antibiotics kill bacteria. We will address these fundamentally important areas, focusing on the human pathogen Staphylococcus aureus as our primary target organism. We aim to:
The Physics of Antimicrobial resistance
Funder: UKRI Strategic Priorities Fund
The figure shows the interdisciplinary project plan and living cells of S. aureus imaged with AFM.
CsxA protein crystal from Clostridium sporogenes spores. Obtained with conventional Tapping Mode AFM in buffer.
Next generation AFM for solving problems in biomedicine
This technology development project is jointly led by myself and Dr Nic Mullin. Below is the summary of the project:
Advances in microscopy can change how we see the natural world and have repeatedly led to breakthroughs in biomedicine. Atomic force microscopy provides unique capabilities, being able to image living samples with molecular resolution, in liquid, at room temperature with minimal preparation. However, for biomedical applications it has failed to live up to its potential, arguably because instruments truly optimised for biology have not been developed. We will push each aspect of the microscope towards its theoretical limit to develop a new instrument that can image biomolecules with resolution comparable to structural biology approaches, but in context, under native conditions. These same advances will also allow us to measure the tiny forces that drive living processes. We will use the instrument to help understand pressing biomedical questions including: how bacteria live and how they die through antibiotic attack; how genetic code is read and regulated; how intercellular forces control embryo development.
The mechanobiology of the bone metastatic niche in breast cancer
Funder: CRUK and EPSRC