Assessing constituent volumes and morphology of bovine casein micelles using cryo-electron tomography

Charith A. Hettiarachchi, Matthew T. Swulius, Federico M. Harte

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


We investigated the applicability of cryo-electron tomography as a method to quantify changes in the major constituents of casein micelles (i.e., casein proteins, putative colloidal calcium phosphate nanoclusters, and serum-filled voids and channels) in response to their environment. Skim milk diluted 20-fold in milk serum was used for this study. Tomograms were generated for multiple casein micelles at 2 different pH values (6.7 and 6.0) and pixel intensity thresholds were identified for each constituent. The volume of each constituent was determined using these thresholds and expressed as a fraction of micelle volume. At the given dilution, a significant decrease in the volume fractions of casein proteins (∼37%) and putative colloidal calcium phosphate nanoclusters (∼67%) was observed with the reduction of pH from 6.7 to 6.0. Assessment of casein micelle fraction obtained by ultracentrifugation of corresponding skim milk samples produced comparable results. When using such an approach, the imaging conditions, denoising methods, and thresholding approaches used can all affect the precision of the measurements, but the overall trends in constituent volumes are able to be tracked. The primary advantage of using cryo-electron tomography is that analysis can be done at the level of individual micelles, within a 3-dimensional morphological context. This workflow paves the way for high-throughput exploration of milk micelles and how their environment shapes their composition and structure.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3971-3979
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of dairy science
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Food Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Genetics


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