Inauguration of the Dubochet Center for Imaging (DCI) on the campuses of UNIGE, UNIL and EPFL

T4 phages observed by electron microscopy, Eduard Kellenberger, 1958.

In the 1940s and 1950s, the University of Geneva was renowned for having built some of the first electron microscopes in Europe.  With this infrastructure, Antoinette Ryter, together with Eduard and Grete Kellenberger, optimized tools to visualize biological samples at unprecedented resolution.  This advance was immortalized by their iconic electron micrographs of bacteriophage.

However, much more was in store; Jacques Dubochet, one of Kellenberger’s first PhD students, after starting his independent group in Heidelberg, would eventually discover in 1981 how to vitrify water in liquid ethane and applied this technique to biological samples in 1982 to preserve the hydrated nature of biomolecules allowing their detailed structures to be revealed.  This, along with other, profound breakthroughs ultimately saw Dubochet receive the 2017 Nobel Prize in chemistry along with Joachim Frank and Richard Henderson “for developing cryo-electron microscopy for the high-resolution structure determination of biomolecules in solution”.

These technological advances triggered a renaissance of interest in cryogenic electron microscopy.  In particular, with the latest microscopes, detectors and imagine-analysis algorithms, researchers can now observe their favourite molecules at, or near, atomic resolution – a hugely important step for understanding how proteins function and how drug targets can be inhibited by small molecules.

Atomic structure of apoferritin revealed by cryo-microscopy (Y. Sadian, CryoGEnic, UNIGE), a protein complex crucial for storing iron in our cells.

To capitalize on this, the UNIGE, together with the UNIL and the EPFL have created the Dubochet Center for Imaging (DCI).  The DCI is composed of two state-of-the-art microscopes and ancillary equipment parks:  DCI-Lausanne located on the EPFL / UNIL campus; and, the CryoGEnic facility (DCI-Geneva) located in the Science II building of the UNIGE. The mission of the DCI is to lead in technology developments whilst enabling scientists from biology, chemistry, pharmacy, and medicine to exploit this technology to tackle fundamental questions in their respective research programmes.

For more information please visit the websites of the DCI Lausanne:  https://www.dci-lausanne.org/ and the DCI Geneva: https://cryoem.unige.ch/