Scanning tunneling microscopy of freeze-fracture replicas of biomembranes

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Science  26 Feb 1988:
Vol. 239, Issue 4843, pp. 1013-1015
DOI: 10.1126/science.3344420


The high resolution of the scanning tunneling microscope (STM) makes it a potentially important tool for the study of biomaterials. Biological materials can be imaged with the STM by a procedure in which fluid, nonconductive biomaterials are replaced by rigid and highly conductive freeze-fracture replicas. The three-dimensional contours of the ripple phase of dimyristoylphosphatidylcholine bilayers were imaged with unprecedented resolution with commercial STMs and standard freeze-fracture techniques. Details of the ripple amplitude, asymmetry, and configuration unobtainable by electron microscopy or x-ray diffraction can be observed relatively easily with the STM.