Cryo-TEM at EMSL

Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory (EMSL)About the Resource

Cryogenic transmission electron microscopy (cryo-TEM) capabilities at DOE’s Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory (EMSL) support fundamental understanding of biological and environmental systems through:

  • De novo structure determination of purified soluble or membrane protein complexes and protein-DNA-RNA complexes greater than 50 kDa total assembled molecular weight.
  • High-resolution imaging of isolated organelles, microcompartments, whole cells, or more complex biosystems in normal and environmentally stressed conditions.
  • Morphological studies using electron tomography to examine unicellular and filamentous organisms; biofilms; and interactions between plants, microbes, and fungi or hosts and viruses.
  • Structure determination from microcrystals and nanocrystals of natural products, metabolites, or proteins.


About the Home Facility

The Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory is a DOE scientific user facility at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory sponsored by the Office of Biological and Environmental Research. EMSL advances and integrates process-level understanding of complex biological and environmental systems across wide temporal and spatial scales by coupling observations, experiments, and theory with modeling and simulation.

The focus for biological research at EMSL is to understand, predict, manipulate, and design biological processes in microbial, fungal, and plant systems for bioenergy and bioproduct production and enhance the understanding of carbon, nutrient, and inorganic element transformations. The focus for fundamental environmental research is to characterize the structure and function of Earth systems to develop and validate predictive models by studying atmospheric chemistry and physics, vegetative ecosystems, and soil or subsurface hydrology and biogeochemistry.

Co-located BER Resources

EMSL hosts more than 150 experimental instruments that provide users with high-resolution spatiotemporal imaging and structural data to study biological and environmental systems at the molecular level. These instruments, in combination with EMSL’s supercomputing capabilities, have helped thousands of researchers use a multidisciplinary, collaborative approach to solve important challenges in biological interactions and dynamics, biogeochemistry and subsurface science, and interactions at the interfaces of natural and engineered materials.

Structural biology expertise at EMSL includes a breadth of cutting-edge capabilities. Combining these with high-performance computing and complementary expertise in other areas enables correlative multimodal imaging and analysis.

  • Atom probe tomography produces three-dimensional images of elements and molecular fragments at the atomic scale within soft biological materials.
  • High-resolution cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) determines the atomic-scale structure of proteins and protein complexes greater than 100 kDa and uncovers the molecular mechanisms regulating cellular processes.
  • Cryo-EM also characterizes cellular ultrastructure in microbial systems, providing clues to how organisms respond within a microbial consortium or to environmental stresses.
  • Nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy measures the distance between protons to determine the structure of small proteins less than 50 kDa.
  • Mass spectrometry examines the organizational relationship between protein complex subunits, providing insights into the molecular mechanisms driving enzymatic reactions in these complexes.