The international award honors world-renowned scientists and scholars who have made outstanding achievements in the fields of biochemistry and biophysics, cognitive science, environmental sciences, history, and medicine
The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) has awarded the 2018 Dr. H.P. Heineken Prize for Biochemistry and Biophysics to Xiaowei Zhuang, the David B. Arnold Jr. Professor of Science, Professor of Chemistry & Chemical Biology and of Physics, and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator.
Professor Zhuang is one of the pioneers of super-resolution microscopy. Her development of single-molecule and super-resolution imaging methods and her biological discoveries using these methods have transformed research capabilities across a broad range of fields, from microscopy and chemistry to biology and medicine.
To understand how cells function—and malfunction in diseases—we need to watch how the molecules in cells work and interact. Zhuang and her lab invented one of the first and most widely used super-resolution imaging methods known as STORM (Stochastic Optical Reconstruction Microscopy), which circumvents the diffraction limit of light microscopy. This powerful method enables researchers to watch, with nanometer-scale resolution, the molecular interactions, dynamics, and functions in cells.
The STORM image gallery compares the results of conventional imaging tools to the super-resolution STORM technique
Using STORM, Zhuang and her lab have achieved three-dimensional, multicolor super-resolution imaging, obtained spatial resolution of sub-10 nanometers, and demonstrated live-cell super-resolution imaging with sub-second time resolution.
More recently, she and her team invented a single-cell transcriptome imaging method called MERFISH (multiplexed error-robust fluorescence in situ hybridization), which allows the expression levels and spatial distributions of RNAs from thousands of genes to be determined in individual cells. This groundbreaking invention enables researchers to map the organization of the transcriptome and genome inside cells and to identify and map distinct cell types in complex tissues.
"Thanks to the pioneering work of Zhuang and her team, it is now possible to visualise and track the behaviour of virions, RNA molecules and cytoskeleton filaments in living cells."
- Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences
Zhuang not only invented powerful imaging methods, she has applied them to investigate a variety of biological problems, including the molecular structures in cells, the organization of chromatin in the nucleus, the regulation of gene expression, and the organization and development of distinct cell types in tissues. With STORM, Zhuang and her lab have discovered novel cellular structures, including the periodic membrane skeleton in neurons.
The 2018 Heineken Prize in Biochemistry and Biophysics recognizes Professor Zhuang’s far-reaching impact on scientific research, health and medicine.
Photo Credit: Jussi Puikkonen/KNAW