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Daniela Nicastro, M.S., Ph.D., is a structural cell biologist with almost 25 years of experience in electron microscopy of cellular structures. Driven by important biological questions, she develops and applies innovative imaging techniques that allow visualizing the 3D structures of native macromolecular machines and organelles inside cells with a resolution that is sufficiently high to accomplish goals such as detecting structural changes between conformational states. This is important for understanding how proteins interact, work, and are spatially arranged to perform normal cellular functions, and how their dysfunction leads to diseases.

Dr. Nicastro was born and raised in Germany, where she obtained her M.S. (1995) and Ph.D. (2000) in Biology from the Ludwig-Maximilians University (Munich, Germany), studying sensory neurons of insects. In parallel to her thesis study at the University, Dr. Nicastro also joined the Max-Planck Institute for Biochemistry in Munich from 1998-2001, where she transitioned technically from classical electron microscopy of chemically-fixed insect tissues to cellular cryo-electron tomography, a three-dimensional electron microscopy method that provides images of life-like preserved (rapidly frozen), sub-cellular structures at molecular resolution. She then continued here research career in the U.S., 2001-2006 as postdoctoral fellow in the National Center for Research Resources for 3D Electron Microscopy of Cells at the University of Colorado in Boulder, and since 2006 as Assistant Professor and later as tenured Associate Professor (since 2013) in the Biology Department at Brandeis University near Boston. The Nicastro lab has made important contributions both technically and biologically, e.g. by advancing cryo-electron microscopy methods to image cellular structures at higher resolution, by taking a multi-length scale approach from studying intact tissues to small molecular motors, and by applying cryo-electron tomography for the first time to samples from patients (with ciliary disease).

In 2015, Dr. Nicastro joined the Departments of Cell Biology and Biophysics at UT Southwestern Medical Center, where she played a key role in building a new state-of-the art cryo-electron microscopy facility. She is also expanding her research program in the rapidly growing area of cryo-electron microscopy; one new focus will be the visualization of native, dynamic DNA-interacting complexes inside normal and cancerous cells, which will provide unique views of nuclear machines and events that are highly relevant to a better understanding of cancer initiation, promotion, progression, and/or treatment.


Graduate School
Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitat (1995), Biology
Graduate School
Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitat (2000), Biology

Research Interest

  • Study the 3D structures and biological functions of native macromolecular complexes inside cells (e.g. dyneins and microtubules in cilia, or DNA-binding complexes)


Featured Publications LegendFeatured Publications

3D structure of eukaryotic flagella in a quiescent state revealed by cryo-electron tomography.
Nicastro D, McIntosh JR, Baumeister W Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 2005 Nov 102 44 15889-94
New views of cells in 3D: an introduction to electron tomography.
McIntosh R, Nicastro D, Mastronarde D Trends Cell Biol. 2005 Jan 15 1 43-51
Macromolecular architecture in eukaryotic cells visualized by cryoelectron tomography.
Medalia O, Weber I, Frangakis AS, Nicastro D, Gerisch G, Baumeister W Science 2002 Nov 298 5596 1209-13
Identification of macromolecular complexes in cryoelectron tomograms of phantom cells.
Frangakis AS, Böhm J, Förster F, Nickell S, Nicastro D, Typke D, Hegerl R, Baumeister W Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 2002 Oct 99 22 14153-8
Cryo-electron tomography of neurospora mitochondria.
Nicastro D, Frangakis AS, Typke D, Baumeister W J. Struct. Biol. 2000 Feb 129 1 48-56
Larva-adult relationships in an ancestral dipteran: A re-examination of sensillar pathways across the antenna and leg anlagen of Chaoborus crystallinus (DeGeer, 1776; Chaoboridae).
Melzer RR, Sprenger J, Nicastro D, Smola U Dev. Genes Evol. 1999 Feb 209 2 103-12

Honors & Awards

  • Alberta Gotthardt and Henry Strage Award for Aspiring Young Science Faculty
    Brandeis University (2008)
  • Research Excellence Award
    WM Keck Foundation (2008)
  • Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences
    Pew Foundation (2007-2011)
  • Postdoctoral scholarship
    Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, Germany (2000-2001)
  • Graduate scholarship
    Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, Germany (1998-2000)
  • Graduate scholarship for Junior Scientists and Artists
    Bavarian Government, Germany (1996-1998)