Washington: In a first step toward possible X-ray exploration of processes that are important to biology, human health and our environment, researchers have captured the first X-ray portraits of living bacteria.
The findings could lead to X-ray exploration of the molecular machinery at work in viral infections, cell division, photosynthesis and other processes.
"This could eventually be a complete game-changer," said Janos Hajdu, professor of biophysics at Uppsala University in Sweden.
"We have developed a unique way to rapidly explore, sort and analyse samples, with the possibility of reaching higher resolutions than other study methods," Hajdu added.
The experiment focused on cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae, an abundant form of bacteria that transformed the Earth's atmosphere 2.5 billion years ago by releasing breathable oxygen, making possible new forms of life that are dominant today.
Cyanobacteria play a key role in the planet's oxygen, carbon and nitrogen cycles.
Researchers sprayed living cyanobacteria in a thin stream of humid gas through a gun-like device.
The cyanobacteria were alive and intact when they flew into the ultrabright, rapid-fire LCLS X-ray pulses, producing diffraction patterns recorded by detectors.
The diffraction patterns preserved details of the living cyanobacteria that were compiled to reconstruct two dimensional images. Researchers said it should be possible to produce 3-D images of some samples using the same technique.
The technique can capture about 100 images per second, amassing many millions of high-resolution X-ray images in a single day, the researchers noted.
The study appeared in the journal Nature Communications.