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Vermeer Etched With Proteins

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MONTREAL, Nov. 12, 2008 -- A novel laser technology that can encourage finicky nerve cells to grow has also been used to etch a tiny version -- about as wide as the thickness of two human hairs -- of a Dutch master's painting using proteins.

SantiagoConstantino.jpgTo illustrate the precision of their protein patterning technique, which provides damaged nerves with a path to follow toward reconnection, a Canadian research team from the University of Montreal and Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital Research Centre, McGill University and the Montreal Neurological Institute reproduced "Girl with a Pearl Earring," a masterwork of Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer, at a size of only 200 by 300 µm. Results of their work were recently published in the journal Lab on a Chip.

That the researchers' laser technology can mimic the protein patterns that surround cells in vivo to replicate the brain’s complex cellular environment is a major discovery, they said, since it can encourage and guide nerve cell growth.

“We have created a system that can fabricate complex methods to grow cells,” says Dr. Santiago Costantino, the study’s lead author and a scientist at the Université de Montréal and Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital Research Centre. ”We see this technique as being very relevant to neuroscience and immunology research. With this system, we laid down a chemical gradient to guide the growth of nerve fiber, which is very useful in studying nerve damage and repair.”

Using laser-assisted protein adsorption by photobleaching (LAPAP), the scientific team bound fluorescently-tagged molecules to a glass slide and created patterns of proteins similar to those of the human body. They then demonstrated how flexible and precise this technique could be by reproducing a green fluorescent microversion of "Girl with a Pearl Earring."
Left: Johannes Vermeer's original of "Girl with a Pearl Earring," circa 1665. (Image: Wikipedia) Right: A green fluorescent microversion of the painting created using proteins. (Image: Santiago Costantino, University of Montreal)
“The flexibility, precision and ease of this technique will hopefully lead to increased access in protein patterning, which could lead to major advances in science,” said Costantino, who is also a member of the BioFemtoVision Canadian Research Group, which is working to develop new laser technologies for vision science.

“Our next goal is to extend laser-assisted protein adsorption by photobleaching to fabricate more complex protein combinations and distributions,” Costantino said. “We want to improve our imitation of the chemical environment found in the early stages of developing organisms.”

The study was funded through grants from the Natural Science and Engineering Council of Canada, the Fonds québécois de la recherche sur la nature et les technologies, Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Fonds de la recherche en santé du Québec.

Other authors on the paper include Jonathan M. Bélisle of the University of Montreal and Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital Research Centre, and James P. Correia, Paul W. Wiseman, and Timothy E. Kennedy of McGill University and the Montreal Neurological Institute.

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Nov 2008
The technology of generating and harnessing light and other forms of radiant energy whose quantum unit is the photon. The science includes light emission, transmission, deflection, amplification and detection by optical components and instruments, lasers and other light sources, fiber optics, electro-optical instrumentation, related hardware and electronics, and sophisticated systems. The range of applications of photonics extends from energy generation to detection to communications and...
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