“My INBRE-funded project at the University of Maine at Farmington requires detailed microscopy images of gonadal structures in fish, but we do not have the equipment or expertise at our institution to meet these needs. In addition, relevant facilities in Maine are not close to us, which make obtaining such images difficult. The microscopy remote interaction program has solved our imaging issues by allowing our smaller campus to both use these resources from a distance and leverage expertise made available by the Light Microscopy Core. We will incorporate these images in a future publication and plan to use the service in the future.” – Timothy Breton, Assistant Professor of Biology, University of Maine at Farmington
Frédéric Bonnet manages MDI Biological Laboratory’s Light Microscopy Facility (LMF), a service available to all Maine IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE) PIs. During his Ph.D. studies in his native France, Bonnet developed an unshakable fascination with the technology to image his work on chicken spinal cord neural cells.
After completing his doctorate, Bonnet continued honing his live image microscopy skills at the Biotechnology Center (BIOTECH) at Technische Universität Dresden in Germany before joining MDIBL in mid-2019.
In the 2 years since, Bonnet has driven the improvement and growth of the LMF, the focus always being getting the faculty what they need to do their work more easily. “I felt some reorganization would help make the LMF more efficient, effective and accessible,” he says. “Now we have a better scheduling and communication system, a better physical environment in which to work, the technology has been optimized for multiple users and I manage most of the administration.”
The largest and most valuable addition to the LMF is without a doubt the 2020 purchase of a new Zeiss LSN980 two-photon confocal microscope which gives resolution down to the sub-cellular level and allows for spectral mixing. Funded by INBRE grants, all INBRE PIs have access to it as collaborators.
While the addition of such a valuable piece of technology would usually see a flurry of excited activity, the global pandemic sent Bonnet back into planning mode – this time to work out how to develop the remote capacity of the LMF. The idea: a sample is sent to Bonnet, and he images it while connected to the research scientist over a video interface like Zoom. Currently trialing this new system with a few close collaborators, Bonnet wants researchers to eventually see him as a natural extension of their work, even if they’re not doing the imaging themselves.
As the saying goes, necessity is the mother of all invention, but this system could have a far longer reach than the end of the COVID-19 pandemic; it breaks down geographic obstacles and offers a more cost-effective option than researchers needing to fund their own microscope. There is also potential here to add a vital education component – training and using students to conduct the imaging, building their workforce skills for future career moves. Ultimately, Bonnet hopes to offer remote services to not only INBRE collaborators to a wider audience across the U.S.
Bonnet’s plans don’t stop at building a multi-faceted remote LMF service, he also has visions of a state-wide imaging network to expand and strengthen Maine’s capacity in the field. He kicked of a series of seminars in January, aimed at bringing microscopy experts and researchers closer together, building awareness and knowledge of microscopy technology, and gaining insight to what technology the sector needs to develop to support researchers in the future.