JoVE Logo
Faculty Resource Center

Sign In





Representative Results






Studying the Supramolecular Organization of Photosynthetic Membranes within Freeze-fractured Leaf Tissues by Cryo-scanning Electron Microscopy

Published: June 23rd, 2016



1Department of Biological Chemistry, Weizmann Institute of Science, 2Department of Chemical Research Support, Weizmann Institute of Science, 3Institute of Plant Sciences, Agricultural Research Organization, Volcani Center

Here we describe a procedure for studying freeze-fractured plant tissues. High-pressure frozen leaf samples are freeze-fractured and double-layer coated, yielding well preserved frozen-hydrated samples that are imaged using the cryo-scanning electron microscope at high magnifications with minimal beam damage.

Cryo-scanning electron microscopy (SEM) of freeze-fractured samples allows investigation of biological structures at near native conditions. Here, we describe a technique for studying the supramolecular organization of photosynthetic (thylakoid) membranes within leaf samples. This is achieved by high-pressure freezing of leaf tissues, freeze-fracturing, double-layer coating and finally cryo-SEM imaging. Use of the double-layer coating method allows acquiring high magnification (>100,000X) images with minimal beam damage to the frozen-hydrated samples as well as minimal charging effects. Using the described procedures we investigated the alterations in supramolecular distribution of photosystem and light-harvesting antenna protein complexes that take place during dehydration of the resurrection plant Craterostigma pumilum, in situ.

Oxygenic photosynthesis, originating in ancient cyanobacteria, was inherited by algae and land plants by endosymbiotic events that led to development of the chloroplast organelle. In all modern-day oxygenic phototrophs, photosynthetic electron transport and the generation of proton-motive force and reducing power are carried out within flattened sac-like vesicles termed 'thylakoid' membranes. These membranes house the protein complexes that carry out the light-driven reactions of photosynthesis and provide a medium for energy transduction. The thylakoid membranes of plants and (some) algae are differentiated into two distinct morphological domains: tightly app....

Log in or to access full content. Learn more about your institution’s access to JoVE content here

1. Cryo-fixation of Leaf Tissues by High-pressure Freezing

Note: This section describes how to carry out high-pressure freezing of leaf tissues for a freeze-fracture experiment. For considerations related to plant samples see29. This can be adapted for other types of tissues or samples with some modification.

  1. Using the corner of a razor blade, scratch the bottom of the 0.1 mm cavity of a 0.1/0.2 mm aluminum platelet (Figure 1). Prepare at least a dozen p.......

Log in or to access full content. Learn more about your institution’s access to JoVE content here

Figure 1 shows cryo-SEM images of platelets containing high-pressure frozen, freeze-fractured Craterostigma pumilum leaf pieces. In some samples, large regions of fractured cells are obtained (Figure 1A). In others, the leaf piece stays tightly bound to the upper disc and is knocked off along with it (Figure 1B). However, even in the second case, some leaf tissue may remain attached to the knife grooves on the platelet (F.......

Log in or to access full content. Learn more about your institution’s access to JoVE content here

The technique described in this paper allows investigation of freeze-fractured membranes within the context of well-preserved high-pressure frozen plant tissues by cryo-scanning electron microscopy. The major advantage of using these procedures is that sample preparation is purely physical; no steps involving chemicals or dehydration are necessary. Thus, it allows studying biological structures at a near-native state26,32. The benefit of using leaf tissues is that one can obtain information on the overall cell.......

Log in or to access full content. Learn more about your institution’s access to JoVE content here

We thank Andres Kaech (University of Zurich) for his helpful advice on scanning electron microscopy imaging. This work was supported by the United States-Israel Binational Agricultural Research and Development Fund (grant no. US-4334-10, Z.R.), the Israel Science Foundation (grant no. 1034/12, Z.R.), and the Human Frontier Science Program (RGP0005/2013, Z.R.). The electron microscopy studies were conducted at the Irving and Cherna Moskowitz Center for Nano and Bio-Nano Imaging at the Weizmann Institute of Science.


Log in or to access full content. Learn more about your institution’s access to JoVE content here

Name Company Catalog Number Comments
ethanol abs Bio-Lab 052505
isopropanol Bio-Lab 162605
1-hexadecene Sigma-Aldrich H7009
0.1/0.2 platelets Engineering Office M. Wohlwend GmbH, Switzerland 241 Platelets are of 3-mm diameter and 0.5-mm-thick (Type A) with 0.1/0.2-mm-deep cavities (of diamater 2 mm). Similar platelets can be obtained from Leica Microsystems.
high-precision-grade tweezers Electron Microscopy Sciences 72706-01 Dumont (Switzerland) Durostar style #5 tweezers; Can be substituted with other high-precision tweezers.
high-pressure freezing machine Bal-Tec HPM 010 High-pressure freezing alternatives: 1. HPF Compact 02, Wohlwend GmbH; 2. HPM 010, RMC Boeckeler; 3. EM PACT2, Leica Microsystems; 4. EM HPM 100, Leica Microsystems; 5. EM ICE, Leica Microsystems.
freeze-fracture system Leica Microsystems EM BAF 060
cryo preparation loading stage Leica Microsystems 16770228
specimen holder for univeral freeze fracturing Leica Microsystems 16LZ04746VN Clamp holder for specimen carriers of diameter 3 mm
vacuum cryo-transfer shuttle Leica Microsystems EM VCT 100
scanning electron microscope Zeiss Ultra 055
cryo SEM stage Leica Microsystems 16770299905
image acquisiton software SmartSEM, Carl Zeiss Microscopy GmbH
image analysis software Fiji/Image J, National Institute of Health

  1. Anderson, J. M. Insights into the consequences of grana stacking of thylakoid membranes in vascular plants: a personal perspective. Aust. J. Plant Physiol. 26 (7), 625-639 (1999).
  2. Branton, D. Fracture Faces of Frozen Membranes. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A. 55 (5), 1048-1056 (1966).
  3. Branton, D., et al. Freeze-Etching Nomenclature. Science. 190 (4209), 54-56 (1975).
  4. Goodenough, U. W., Staehelin, L. A. Structural Differentiation of Stacked and Unstacked Chloroplast Membranes - Freeze-Etch Electron Microscopy of Wild-Type and Mutant Strains of Chlamydomonas. J. Cell Biol. 48 (3), 594-619 (1971).
  5. Simpson, D. J. Freeze-Fracture Studies on Barley Plastid Membranes .6. Location of the P700-Chlorophyll a-Protein-1. Eur. J. Cell Biol. 31 (2), 305-314 (1983).
  6. Staehelin, L. A. Reversible Particle Movements Associated with Unstacking and Restacking of Chloroplast Membranes. Invitro. J. Cell Biol. 71 (1), 136-158 (1976).
  7. Miller, K. R. A Chloroplast Membrane Lacking Photosystem-I - Changes in Unstacked Membrane Regions. Biochim. Biophys. Acta. 592 (1), 143-152 (1980).
  8. Miller, K. R., Cushman, R. A. Chloroplast Membrane Lacking Photosystem-II - Thylakoid Stacking in the Absence of the Photosystem-II Particle. Biochim. Biophys. Acta. 546 (3), 481-497 (1979).
  9. Miller, K. R., Staehelin, L. A. Analysis of Thylakoid Outer Surface - Coupling Factor Is Limited to Unstacked Membrane Regions. J. Cell Biol. 68 (1), 30-47 (1976).
  10. Simpson, D. J. Freeze-Fracture Studies on Barley Plastid Membranes .3. Location of the Light-Harvesting Chlorophyll-Protein. Carlsberg Res. Commun. 44 (5), 305-336 (1979).
  11. Olive, J., Recouvreur, M., Girardbascou, J., Wollman, F. A. Further Identification of the Exoplasmic Face Particles on the Freeze-Fractured Thylakoid Membranes - a Study Using Double and Triple Mutants from Chlamydomonas-Reinhardtii Lacking Various Photosystem-Ii Subunits and the Cytochrome B6/F Complex. Eur. J. Cell Biol. 59 (1), 176-186 (1992).
  12. Olive, J., Vallon, O., Wollman, F. A., Recouvreur, M., Bennoun, P. Studies on the Cytochrome B6/F Complex .2. Localization of the Complex in the Thylakoid Membranes from Spinach and Chlamydomonas-Reinhardtii by Immunocytochemistry and Freeze-Fracture Analysis of B6/F Mutants. Biochim. Biophys. Acta. 851 (2), 239-248 (1986).
  13. Armond, P. A., Staehelin, L. A., Arntzen, C. J. Spatial Relationship between Light Harvesting Complex and Photosystem-1 and Photosystem-2 in Stacked and Unstacked Chloroplast Membranes. J. Cell Biol. 70 (2), 400-418 (1976).
  14. Staehelin, L. A. Chloroplast structure: from chlorophyll granules to supra-molecular architecture of thylakoid membranes. Photosynth. Res. 76 (1-3), 185-196 (2003).
  15. Nevo, R., Charuvi, D., Tsabari, O., Reich, Z. Composition, architecture and dynamics of the photosynthetic apparatus in higher plants. Plant J. 70 (1), 157-176 (2012).
  16. Platt, K. A., Oliver, M. J., Thomson, W. W. Membranes and Organelles of Dehydrated Selaginella and Tortula Retain Their Normal Configuration and Structural Integrity - Freeze-Fracture Evidence. Protoplasma. 178 (1-2), 57-65 (1994).
  17. Platt-Aloia, K. A., Thomson, W. W. Advantages of the use of intact plant tissues in freeze-fracture electron microscopy. J. Electron Microsc. Tech. 13 (4), 288-299 (1989).
  18. Carson, J. L. Fundamental technical elements of freeze-fracture/freeze-etch in biological electron microscopy. J. Vis. Exp. (91), e51694 (2014).
  19. Kirchhoff, H., et al. Low-light-induced formation of semicrystalline photosystem II arrays in higher plant chloroplasts. Biochemistry. 46 (39), 11169-11176 (2007).
  20. Johnson, M. P., et al. Photoprotective Energy Dissipation Involves the Reorganization of Photosystem II Light-Harvesting Complexes in the Grana Membranes of Spinach Chloroplasts. Plant Cell. 23 (4), 1468-1479 (2011).
  21. Kirchhoff, H., Tremmel, I., Haase, W., Kubitscheck, U. Supramolecular photosystem II organization in grana thylakoid membranes: evidence for a structured arrangement. Biochemistry. 43 (28), 9204-9213 (2004).
  22. Belgio, E., Ungerer, P., Ruban, A. V Light-harvesting superstructures of green plant chloroplasts lacking photosystems. Plant Cell Environ. , (2015).
  23. Goral, T. K., et al. Light-harvesting antenna composition controls the macrostructure and dynamics of thylakoid membranes in Arabidopsis. Plant J. 69 (2), 289-301 (2012).
  24. Charuvi, D., et al. Photoprotection Conferred by Changes in Photosynthetic Protein Levels and Organization during Dehydration of a Homoiochlorophyllous Resurrection Plant. Plant Physiol. 167 (4), 1554-1565 (2015).
  25. Farrant, J. M., Brandt, W., Lindsey, G. G. An Overview of Mechanisms of Desiccation Tolerance in Selected Angiosperm Resurrection Plants. Plant Stress. 1 (1), 72-84 (2007).
  26. Walther, P., Schatten, H., Pawley, J. B. High-resolution cryoscanning electron microscopy of biological samples. Biological Low-Voltage Scanning Electron Microscopy. , 245-261 (2008).
  27. Walther, P., Müller, M. Double-layer coating for field-emission cryo-scanning electron microscopy--present state and applications. Scanning. 19 (5), 343-348 (1997).
  28. Walther, P., Wehrli, E., Hermann, R., Müller, M. Double-layer coating for high-resolution low-temperature scanning electron microscopy. J. Microsc. 179, 229-237 (1995).
  29. Hess, M. W. Cryopreparation methodology for plant cell biology. Cell. Electron Microsc. 79, 57-100 (2007).
  30. Schertel, A., et al. Cryo FIB-SEM: Volume imaging of cellular ultrastructure in native frozen specimens. J. Struct. Biol. 184 (2), 355-360 (2013).
  31. Schindelin, J., et al. Fiji: an open-source platform for biological-image analysis. Nat. Methods. 9 (7), 676-682 (2012).
  32. Walther, P. Recent progress in freeze-fracturing of high-pressure frozen samples. J. Microsc. 212 (1), 34-43 (2003).
  33. Nevo, R., et al. Architecture of Thylakoid Membrane Networks. Lipids Photosynth. 30, 295-328 (2009).

This article has been published

Video Coming Soon

JoVE Logo


Terms of Use





Copyright © 2024 MyJoVE Corporation. All rights reserved