Global Team Receives Support from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative to Develop Training, Community around New 3D Bioimaging Technology

St. Louis, MO, January 26, 2023—The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative awarded a two-year grant for Advancing Imaging Through Collaborative Projects to Kirk Czymmek, PhD, director of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center’s Advanced Bioimaging Laboratory, Michele Darrow of Rosalind Franklin Institute, and Paul Verkade of the University of Bristol, along with an international team of eight additional scientists. 

Czymmek’s team will build a global community and training resources around volume electron microscopy (vEM), a cutting-edge technology that allows scientists to go beyond the standard two-dimensional images that most microscopes provide and to instead view three-dimensional images over large areas down to about one nanometer. This summer, the Advanced Bioimaging Laboratory will receive a new vEM microscope called the Helios 5 “Hydra” DualBeam. This microscope will allow scientists to see cells and tissues in a novel and largely unexplored way, opening the door for a deeper understanding of the cellular level and enhancing the potential for new discoveries.

“We are increasingly being challenged to understand how to improve crop resilience to environmental stress and disease,” Czymmek said. “The remarkable capabilities of our new Hydra vEM will allow us the unprecedented ability to reconstruct entire plant cells and tissue with exquisite detail. This technology will allow us to “freeze” organisms in time and space and build intricate 3D models that will help us solve our critical food security challenges.”

Because this technology is so cutting-edge, it is not widely available, which has previously made it nearly impossible for most scientists to learn how to use it. Now that he will have access to this new platform, Czymmek hopes to remove that barrier. Thanks to the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative grant, the team’s project will produce multimedia outreach materials and training videos; develop vEM software platforms, plugins, machine learning models, and reference datasets; build the infrastructure to maintain a network of vEM-trained scientists; and more, making the Danforth Center’s new Helios 5 Hydra DualBeam one of a global network of vEM systems. 

Until now, the lack of standardized software and training for vEM technologies have prevented scientists both from learning to use them and from collaborating within the community. Addressing these issues will allow top researchers to take full advantage of this remarkable three-dimensional technology.  

“Knowledge-sharing is critical to efficiently leverage the full power of these sophisticated vEM technologies,” Czymmek said. “The sooner our colleagues across the globe are trained and educated for successful vEM protocols, the faster new science can be enabled and translate into new medicines and improved foods for the benefit of society.”

Top Image: VolumeEM of a plant cell showing a 3D perspective of chloroplast starch (magenta), plastoglobules (blue), and cell wall (green). Courtesy of the Doug Allen Lab and Kirk Czymmek Lab at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center for providing and preparing the samples and Lisa Chan and Robin White (ZEISS) for vEM imaging and deep learning training.

About the Advanced Bioimaging Laboratory
The Advanced Bioimaging Laboratory uses state-of-the-art imaging technology to document plants, microbes, and their interactions, from whole plants down to the cellular level. By conducting experiments and using these powerful microscopes to view living organisms, the ABL offers a portal into a world invisible to the naked eye and provides an up-close look at the inner workings of cells and their interactions with their environment. By discovering how plants live and grow through first-hand observation, the work of the ABL furthers our knowledge of our world and helps us understand how plant science can be used to create a more sustainable future.

About the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center
Founded in 1998, the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center is a not-for-profit research institute with a mission to improve the human condition through plant science. Research, education, and outreach aim to have an impact at the nexus of food security and the environment and position the St. Louis region as a world center for plant science. The Center’s work is funded through competitive grants from many sources, including the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Agency for International Development, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Follow us on Twitter at @DanforthCenter.

For more information contact:
Danforth Plant Science Center, Karla Roeber,, 314.406.4287.