The distributions of chemical elements within cells are of prime importance in a wide range of basic and applied biochemical research. An example is the role of the subcellular Zn distribution in Zn homeostasis in insulin producing pancreatic beta cells and the development of type 2 diabetes mellitus. We combined transmission electron microscopy with micro- and nano-synchrotron X-ray fluorescence to image unequivocally for the first time, to the best of our knowledge, the natural elemental distributions, including those of trace elements, in single organelles and other subcellular features. Detected elements include Cl, K, Ca, Co, Ni, Cu, Zn and Cd (which some cells were supplemented with). Cell samples were prepared by a technique that minimally affects the natural elemental concentrations and distributions, and without using fluorescent indicators. It could likely be applied to all cell types and provide new biochemical insights at the single organelle level not available from organelle population level studies.
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