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Journal for Biophysical Chemistry

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  • Open Access

From diffraction to imaging: New avenues in studying hierarchical biological tissues with x-ray microbeams (Review)

  • 1

  • Received: 29 April 2008
  • Accepted: 16 June 2008


Load bearing biological materials such as bone or arthropod cuticle have optimized mechanical properties which are due to their hierarchical structure ranging from the atomic/molecular level up to macroscopic length scales. Structural investigations of such materials require new experimental techniques with position resolution ideally covering several length scales. Beside light and electron microscopy, synchrotron radiation based x-ray imaging techniques offer excellent possibilities in this respect, ranging from full field imaging with absorption or phase contrast to x-ray microbeam scanning techniques. A particularly useful approach for the study of biological tissues is the combination x-ray microbeam scanning with nanostructural information obtained from x-ray scattering [small-angle x-ray scattering (SAXS) and wide-angle x-ray scattering (WAXS)]. This combination allows constructing quantitative images of nanostructural parameters with micrometer scanning resolution, and hence, covers two length scales at once. The present article reviews recent scanning microbeam SAXS/WAXS work on bone and some other biological tissues with particular emphasis on the imaging capability of the method. The current status of instrumentation and experimental possibilities is also discussed, and a short outlook about actual and desirable future developments in the field is given.