Biotech Connector: The Cryo-EM Boom

August 19, 20218:00am - 9:00amWebEx

Biotech Connector is an exclusive quarterly series that brings together the area biotech community for an inside look at local biotech advances. It is a partnership between the Frederick County Chamber of Commerce and the Frederick National Laboratory Partnership Development Office.

Cryo-EM, a powerful tool for understanding structure


Natalia de Val, Ph.D.

Senior Scientist, Senior Product Specialist, Electron Microscopy

Thermo Fisher Scientific


In order to understand biological processes, and how they fail in disease, it is vital to obtain structural information for the relevant biological machinery. These large or dynamic systems present a challenge to traditional structural methods as X-Ray or NMR. Fortunately, cryo-electron microscopy (Cryo-EM) techniques, particularly single particle analysis (SPA), have emerged as a well-suited approach for the determination of native protein function and the dynamics of complex biological systems. During this webinar we will present our latest SPA results obtained with our Glacios/Krios TEM, Falcon 4 and Selectris combination.


Dr. de Val is a Biochemist/Protein engineering specialist, with more than 12-year experience in single particle Cryo-EM, as well as immunogenic design efforts for vaccine achievement. She received her Doctoral degree in Biochemistry from the University of Leuven (Belgium). After her graduation, she did postdoctoral work at UC-Berkeley (USA) and the Pasteur Institute (France). From 2012-2016, she played a key role in defining the structure of the HIV-1 envelope and Ebola virus glycoproteins at the Scripps Institute (USA). Before relocating to Frederick, she served as Principal Scientist at NanoImaging working with Dr. Bridget Carragher.  In 2017 she joined NCI where she was responsible for the management of a wide portfolio of projects related to cancer and HIV diseases. She has authored over 60 scientific publications in high Impact scientific journals, as Science, and Nature.  She joined Thermo Fisher Scientific in 2021 as a Senior Scientist, Product Specialist for Electron Microscopy.

Advancing Cryo-EM: High Resolution at Low Cost


Jana Ognjenović, Ph.D.

Advanced Cryo-Electron Microscopy Technology Group

Frederick National Laboratory


In recent years, the cryo-EM method has undergone a “resolution revolution” that’s led to a flood of high-resolution structures of challenging samples and consequent surge in interest among structural biologists. However, due to the high cost of the equipment, the technique is still inaccessible to many scientists. There is thus an urgent need for instrumentation that is more affordable but still capable of producing data of similarly high quality. In this presentation, I will show results demonstrating that lower voltage electron microscopes, which are significantly less expensive than the ones commonly used for high-end data collection, are indeed able to deliver ultra-high resolution structures, even for samples that exhibit substantial conformational and compositional heterogeneity. The detailed chemical information provided by these structures has the potential to inform anticancer and antiviral drug design efforts.


Dr. Ognjenović is currently head of the Advance Cryo-EM Technology Group at the Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research. Her team explores emerging platforms and develops methodologies for both single-particle analysis and cryo-electron tomography, with an emphasis on pursuits that have the potential to make cryo-EM a more widely accessible technique. Her group’s research interests include signal transduction and the regulation of gene expression, with the goal of using high-resolution cryo-EM structures to gain mechanistic insights and to inform drug design efforts against intractable targets.