How do viral pathogens succeed in penetrating human cells? Which cellular mechanisms do they use to multiply efficiently and, in doing so, how do they change the structure of their host cell? These questions are the focus of a pan-­European research project called “Compact Cell-­Imaging Device” (CoCID), in which Heidelberg scientists are playing a major role.

For this purpose, the European Union is funding a consortium of virologists and imaging experts coordinated by University College Dublin (Ireland) with just under 5.7 million euros until the end of 2024. In all, approximately 1.6 million euros will go to Heidelberg University and Heidelberg University Hospital.

A particularly high-performance method of cell imaging is soft X-­Ray microscopy (SXM), explains Dr. Venera Weinhardt from the Centre for Organismal Studies (COS) of Heidelberg University. “SXM makes use of the special properties of the soft X-­Ray spectrum in order to look into the interior of a single intact cell and generate three­dimensional images of its whole internal structure.

That also reveals the changes induced by viral infections,” says Dr. Weinhardt. For this reason, soft X-Ray microscopy clearly sets itself apart from traditional methods such as electron microscopy, which can visualize individual parts but not the whole cell interior.

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