Enlightening insights of the "darkroom cell"

German Research Foundation finances optical microscope at the University of Jenas Institute of Applied Optics
  • Research

Published: | By: Stephan Laudien

Prof. Dr. Christian Eggeling of the Institute of Applied Optics at the Friedrich Schiller University Jena. Prof. Dr. Christian Eggeling of the Institute of Applied Optics at the Friedrich Schiller University Jena. Image: Anne Günther/FSU

The Institute of Applied Optics and Biophysics at the Friedrich Schiller University Jena (FSU) is set to receive a state-of-the-art MINFLUX microscope. Prof. Dr Christian Eggeling and his team submitted a successful application entitled Minflux Jena – Advancing Single-Molecule Detection in Cell-Biological Research as part of the current large-scale equipment initiative run by the German Research Foundation (DFG). The device costs around two million euros and is expected to be used for the first time in Jena in the second half of 2019.

This is obviously great news from the DFG, says Prof. Eggeling. The 48-year-old biophysicist is looking forward to using a new device whose limits are yet to be pushed to the maximum. Well only be able to discover the true potential of these high-performance microscopes when we use the new technology. MINFLUX microscopy was developed at the Max Planck Institute in Göttingen, where Nobel Prize winner Prof. Dr Stefan Hell carries out his research. Christian Eggeling worked in Hells team before moving to first Oxford and now Jena. He explains how pleasing it is to see the DFG recognizing Jenas strengths in applied microscopy. The Minflux microscope technology will open the door to a new form of microscopy, says Eggeling. The devices allow the human eye to see individual molecules and emphatically exceed the resolution limit of conventional microscopy that Ernst Abbe once postulated in Jena.

The scientific pioneer Abbe calculated that optical microscopes using visible light could reach a maximum resolution of around 200 nanometres. Thanks to developments made over the past 20 years, including those made by Prof. Hell and his team in Göttingen and Prof. Eggeling, super-resolution microscopes have been used to demonstrate ways to overcome this limit, and now even commercial devices are able to investigate living cell structures that are much smaller than the 200-nanometre limit. Prof. Stefan Hell and his team have now generated the MINFLUX approach to break new ground in super-resolution microscopy: A doughnut-shaped laser spot and innovative computer technology integrated into the new microscopes allow to locate and follow individual molecules in living cells with unprecedented spatial and temporal resolution. This is all still basic research, explains Prof. Eggeling, but with great potential in biomedical sciences. For example, the ReceptorLight project carried out at the Collaborative Research Centre 166 in Jena has revealed the need for advanced technology such as MINFLUX to outline essential detail of the darkroom cell for biomedical applications such as causes of diseases and ways to tackle those. If we can observe where a virus exits a cell, for example, we could prevent this in a targeted manner, explains Christian Eggeling. This would allow us to contain infections like HIV.

A call for tenders entitled Innovative, Experimental Optical Microscopes for Research elicited a tremendous response from German universities. A total of 50 funding applications were submitted to the DFG, and funding has now been allocated for 13 experimental microscopes. The DFG is spending around 14.5 million euros on the project. The aim of this large-scale equipment initiative run by the German Research Foundation is to make use of highly sophisticated yet less established technologies in light microscopy.  


Prof. Dr Christian Eggeling
Institute of Applied Optics at the Friedrich Schiller University Jena
Max-Wien-Platz 1
07743 Jena