Is EM dead?

J Cell Sci. 2013 Oct 15;126(Pt 20):4545-52. doi: 10.1242/jcs.124123.


Since electron microscopy (EM) first appeared in the 1930s, it has held centre stage as the primary tool for the exploration of biological structure. Yet, with the recent developments of light microscopy techniques that overcome the limitations imposed by the diffraction boundary, the question arises as to whether the importance of EM in on the wane. This Commentary describes some of the pioneering studies that have shaped our understanding of cell structure. These include the development of cryo-EM techniques that have given researchers the ability to capture images of native structures and at the molecular level. It also describes how a number of recent developments significantly increase the ability of EM to visualise biological systems across a range of length scales, and in 3D, ensuring that EM will remain at the forefront of biology research for the foreseeable future.

Keywords: EM; Electron microscopy; SEM; Scanning electron microscopy; TEM; Transmission electron microscopy.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cells / ultrastructure
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • Humans
  • Microscopy, Electron / history*
  • Microscopy, Electron / methods*
  • Microscopy, Electron / trends