Conventional freeze-etching is carried out in a vacuum of approximately 10(-6) torr and at a specimen temperature of -100 degrees C. The relatively poor topographic resolution of most freeze-etch replicas, and the lack of complementarity of morphological details in double replicas have been thought to be caused by structural distortions during fracturing, and radiation damage during replication. Both phenomena can be reduced by lowering the specimen temperature. To prevent condensation of residual gases (especially H2O) on the fracture faces at lower specimen temperature, an improved vacuum is required. Therefore, an ultrahigh vacuum freeze-fracture apparatus has been developed which allows fracturing and Pt/C-shadowing of specimens at -196 degrees C while maintaining a vacuum of 10(-9) torr. It consists of a modified Balzers BA 350 ultrahigh vacuum (UHV) unit, equipped with an airlock which enables the input of nonhoar-frosted specimens directly into the evacuated bell jar. A comparison of the paracrystalline plasmalemma structure in yeast cells portrayed by the conventional technique and by UHV-freeze-fracturing at -196 degrees C shows the improved topographic resolution which has been achieved with the new technique. The improvement is explained by less structural distortions during fracturing at lower temperatures. The particles of the paracrystalline regions on the P face are more regularly arranged and exhibit a craterlike substructure which corresponds with a ringlike depression in the E face. The optical diffraction patterns of these paracrystalline regions demonstrate the improvement of the structural record by showing well-defined third- and fourth-order spots.

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