Ever since scientists realized that cells are the basic building blocks of all life, they have been developing tools to look inside them to reveal the architectures and mechanisms that define their biological functions. Whereas “looking into cells” is typically said in reference to optical microscopy, high-resolution in-cell and on-cell nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy is a powerful method that offers exciting new possibilities for structural and functional studies in and on live cells. In contrast to conventional imaging techniques, in- and on-cell NMR methods do not provide spatial information on cellular biomolecules. Instead, they enable atomic-resolution insights into the native cell states of proteins, nucleic acids, glycans, and lipids. Here we review recent advances and developments in both fields and discuss emerging concepts that have been delineated with these methods.


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