And you thought the epitome of photography was that time you Photoshopped all those cats falling off of the Statue of Liberty. As cool as all the recent photos of geniuses’ brains have been — such as Albert Einstein and Charles Babbage — Erizo di Fabrizio may have taken the most important science image in the ultra-modern age.
DNA’s double helix was originally discovered using X-ray crystallography by James Watson and Francis Crick almost 60 years ago, but our knowledge of it has always rested more on solid theories rather than clear visual evidence. Di Fabrizio and his team at the University of Genoa, Italy changed that, and though the corkscrew they revealed can’t open the wine bottle, a celebration is still in order.
The team extracted DNA strands from a dilute solution and laid them out on a patterned bed of nanoscopic silicon pillars, whose water-repellent nature quickly evaporated any moisture and allowed the strands to rest alone on the pillars. On the bottom of the base, they drilled tiny holes and shone beams of electrons through, granting the images a higher resolution. Somebody then told the strand to say “Cheeseburger” and the image was captured.
The electrons’ energies are so high, it would break up a single DNA molecule, so only cords of DNA can be viewed this way. The technique will need further perfection, using electrons with lower levels of energy. “With improved sample preparation and better imaging resolution, we could directly observe DNA at the level of single bases,” says di Fabrizio. This will allow scientists to see how proteins, RNA, and other biomolecules interact directly with the DNA itself.