Grants from NSF power super-resolution microscope, probe cell walls in plants

By Victoria M. Indivero
December 08, 2016

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A new super-resolution microscope and some of the first dynamic imaging experiments it enables are being supported by two grants totaling nearly $1.5 million awarded to Penn State researchers by the National Science Foundation.

The Nikon N-SIM/N-STORM microscope, recently installed on the University Park campus in the Huck Institutes Microscopy Core Facility, will be available for all Penn State researchers to use thanks to one of the grants. The grant from NSF totals $649,261, and Penn State has offered $278,254 in matching funds.

“We have acquired a super-resolution microscope that will be able to image biological and chemical specimens at up to 20 nm resolution, or 10 times better resolution than a normal light microscope,” said Charles T. Anderson, assistant professor of biology and principal investigator for both grants. “This new capability is exciting because it will allow us to probe living and intact specimens near the scale of single molecules, revealing how these molecules work together to make complex processes, like life itself, happen.”

The other grant, totaling $831,613, will enable Anderson and colleagues to determine how the carbohydrate-based cell walls of guard cells dynamically change shape to control the size of stomatal pores, allowing plants to control carbon dioxide uptake and water loss.

“Stomatal guard cells are fascinating because they are some of the most dynamic cells in plants,” said Anderson. “Unlike most plant cells, which grow irreversibly, guard cells must grow and shrink repeatedly, every day, to control the plant’s ability to take up carbon dioxide for photosynthesis and release water by evaporation. Thus, guard cells are critical for efficient plant growth and water use, and they are targets for breeding efforts to improve the yields of food crops as the climate continues to destabilize.”

For those interested in using the microscope, please contact Gang (Greg) Ning at

Other investigators on the microscope acquisition grant include Graham Thomas, associate professor of biology; Christine Keating, professor of chemistry; James Wang, professor of information sciences and technology; and Cristina Rosa, assistant professor of plant virology, as well as 17 other faculty contributors. Other investigators on the stomatal guard cell grant include James Wang, professor of information sciences and technology, and Virendra Puri, Distinguished Professor of Agricultural and Biological Engineering.

  • Specimens for Super Resolution Microscope

    The newly acquired super-resolution microscope, located in the Huck Institutes Microscopy Core Facility, allows researchers to probe living and intact specimens near the scale of single molecules.

    IMAGE: Patrick Mansell

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated December 16, 2016