Yakir Reshef was puzzled. His patient’s aortic wall was becoming dangerously thin—nearing a rupture—with no apparent cause. A rheumatologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Reshef suspected either infection or inflammation. Both indicate that the immune system wasn’t functioning properly, with the former showing it was flagging and the latter meaning it was in overdrive. But current tests are not precise enough to identify which of these conditions was driving his patient’s condition.
Ever since 17th-century Dutch scientific pioneer Antonie van Leeuwenhoek used his primitive microscope to peer at a drop of lake water and discover bacteria, scientists have worked to improve microscopes to see finer and finer features in biological samples.
Fei Chen, a Schmidt Fellow at the Broad Institute, has now stood the paradigm on its head. His idea: To see smaller features, make the samples bigger!
Moran Yassour, a postdoctoral researcher in the labs of Eric Lander and Ramnik Xavier at the Broad Institute, is a pioneer in one of biology’s hottest fields: the human microbiome. She’s researching how the circumstances of our birth and early life influence the origin and development of the microbes in our gut. Support from the BroadIgnite community has allowed her to investigate the differences in the gut bacteria between children born by C-section and those born vaginally. Here, she shares more about her research.
Each cell in our body contains a thick, unique soup of proteins, culled from our genome’s recipe book. Yet, until now, identifying all the proteins at work in rare cell types—these cells’ proteome—without looking only at the usual suspects has been impossible. Analyzing the proteome with the standard method, the chemical identification technique mass spectrometry, simply requires far too many cells to study small but critical populations, such as immune cells at the root of autoimmune disorders.