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Last update: May 2021

Menu Institutions

SPS - Saclay Plant Sciences

SPS LabEx imaging infrastructures:

the infinitely small at the service of plant biology

The Laboratory of Excellence Saclay Plant Sciences (LabEx SPS) provides the scientific community with a wide range of imaging high-tech resources. These pieces of equipment are gathered on technical platforms in three laboratories of the southern Paris region: the Jean-Pierre Bourgin Institute (IJPB, Versailles), the Institute of Integrative Biology of the Cell (I2BC, Gif-sur-Yvette) and the Institute of Plant Sciences Paris-Saclay (IPS2, Orsay).

L'imagerie SPS : L'infiniment petit au service de la biologie végétale from Labex SPS on Vimeo.

(Video in French)

A field in constant evolution

The creation of the optical microscope in the late sixteenth century opened the doors of the infinitely small and questioned a number of scientific theories that were current at this time.

Ever since, microscopy never stopped evolving by building on discoveries such as electricity, which will significantly improve the image quality particularly through the lighting techniques, photography or film, that will enable the conservation of biological data in another way than by drawing, or the digital revolution, which will increase exponentially the amount of collected data as well as the processing power of this data.

Similarly, the discipline has constantly diversified in several imaging specialties and techniques. There are currently two main types of optical microscopy:
- Light microscopy, which uses light to illuminate the sample and in which, for instance, can be classified fluorescence microscopy, confocal microscopy or even the microscopes used for educational purposes in high school,
- Electron microscopy, using an electron beam to irradiate the sample and allowing very high magnifications, which includes in particular scanning electron microscopy or transmission electron microscopy.

For biological phenomena observation, present and future improvements in imaging techniques must meet several challenges: spatial resolution (to observe increasingly small elements), time resolution (to observe increasingly fast mechanisms) and taking into account the phenomenon in its environment (to stick closer to what happens in natural living conditions). The field is constantly seeking to increase sensitivity and speed for access to phenomena which hitherto were not detectable.

A powerful tool for research in plant biology

Although some plants genomes have been completely sequenced (the first sequenced plant genome being that of the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana in 2000), we still have a very limited vision of the function of most of their genes.

To understand the purpose of these genes, plant science research combines different techniques such as molecular biology, biochemistry, genetics ... and microscopy. The goal is to have the widest possible overview on the phenomenon to facilitate its understanding.

Among these tools, microscopy gives a more functional view of genes and tries for example to answer the following questions: Where does the expression of these genes happen? Where do their products accumulate? What are the constraints to which they are subjected?

Imaging is thus a fundamental tool in the study of plants.

The SPS imaging platforms, a high technical expertise

The three SPS LabEx imaging sites include complementary specific equipment, giving access locally to a very wide range of microscopy techniques and enabling researchers to use these tools close to their laboratory.

Gathering equipment on platforms has several advantages. First, this allows to group purchases and therefore opens the possibility to purchase more advanced machines that will be used to their full potential. The SPS LabEx has already contributed for more than €300K to the purchase of imaging equipment available on those platforms.

But combining imaging equipment on platforms also represents the opportunity to dedicate technical staff. Indeed, there is no microscope that can do everything. Each imaging technique has its own characteristics, advantages and disadvantages. For the SPS LabEx platforms, it is therefore not simply about offering a wide range of equipment to make different types of observations, but it is also necessary to have qualified technical staff available to guide and train users, help them make the right choice of equipment according to their needs and constraints, or even help them analyze and interpret the images they obtain.

Do not hesitate to contact the platform managers to benefit from the SPS LabEx imaging infrastructures.