Scientists at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have recently developed techniques for visualizing the behavior of biological nanostructures in both space and time, allowing them to directly measure stiffness and map its variation throughout the network.

Knowing the mechanical properties of DNA structures is crucial to building sturdy biological networks, among other applications. According to researchers, this type of visualization of biomechanics in space and time should be applicable to the study of other biological nanomaterials, including the abnormal protein assemblies that underlie diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

The team was able to see, for the first time, the motion of DNA nanostructures in both space and time using the four-dimensional (4D) electron microscope developed at Caltech's Physical Biology Center for Ultrafast Science and Technology.

Using 4D electron microscopy, the group has begun to visualize protein assemblies called amyloids, which are believed to play a role in many neurodegenerative diseases, and they are continuing their investigation of the biomechanical properties of these networks. The
technique has the potential for broad applications not only to biological assemblies, but also in the materials science of nanostructures.

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