With a passion for invention in electron microscopy, Peter Peters has worked in a range of jobs from technician to professor. “I want to see how molecular machines operate inside cells and where proteins are located. Some cells have pits in their membranes that accept growth factors, for example, and when these structures get altered it can lead to cancer. One can guess how all the proteins in the pit work together by looking at the structures of individual proteins determined by X-ray crystallography, but being able to see how the proteins really fit together in the cell would add a lot of information on the mechanism”.
This is where electron microscopy (EM) comes in. “After 25 years experience I’ve developed ideas and scientific contacts that could make this dream come true. My aim is to devise a way of doing cryo-electron tomography. This will give us a 3D view of a cell’s internal structure. In cryo-EM, cells are flash frozen to –180°C. This vitrifies them — the cells become a ‘solid’ liquid (like glass). Another obstacle is getting thin enough slices. His initiative is driving developments literally at the cutting edge. The next step will be to identify the proteins by matching their electron densities to those determined by X-ray crystallography. The end result will be a tool that could revolutionize cell biology”.