HHMI's Betzig, colleagues win prestigious prize for lattice light-sheet microscopy method

An exceptional light microscopy advance by Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) researchers Eric Betzig, Bi-Chang Chen, Wesley Legant, Kai Wang, and colleagues will receive the 2014-2015 Newcomb Cleveland Prize of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), which includes $25,000 and a plaque.

Related: Laureate's reprise shows real-time subcellular activity in 3D

The work, which dramatically improves upon conventional light-sheet microscopy, allows for 3D imaging of single molecules, live cells, and developing embryos. Light-sheet microscopy rapidly illuminates one plane after another within a specimen, minimizing background haze and light-induced damage. However, conventional light sheets are too thick over cellular dimensions to capture subcellular workings in detail and at high resolution.

Several years ago, Betzig and colleagues at the HHMI's Janelia Research Campus (Ashburn, VA) began exploring the use of ultra-thin, nondiffracting Bessel beams to overcome this problem. Using several Bessel beams in parallel allowed for faster observation and reduced phototoxicity compared to using only one, Betzig explains. Inspired by this and by physicists who use optical lattices to trap atoms, Betzig theorized that 2D lattices—essentially multiple parallel "grids" of Bessel beams—could offer better results.

(L-R) Newcomb Cleveland Prize winners Eric Betzig, Kai Wang, Wesley Legant, and Bi-Chang Chen. (Credit: Matt Staley)

In their study, the researchers illustrated the power of their approach using 20 distinct biological systems, including embryonic development in nematodes and fruit flies. Because their approach causes less damage than traditional imaging and improves image acquisition speed, it expands the range of biological events that microscopes can investigate, holding broad implications for the field of biology.

Since its development, lattice light-sheet microscopy has been used to image numerous important events, such as single transcription factor molecules binding to DNA, hotspots of transcription, microtubule instability, protein distributions in embryos, and much more. The microscope is available free of charge to outside users through the Advanced Imaging Center at Janelia.

The 2014-2015 Newcomb Cleveland Prize, now supported by The Fodor Family Trust, annually recognizes the author(s) of an outstanding paper published in the Research Articles or Reports sections of the journal Science between June and the following May. Along with a plaque and $25,000 in prize money, the winner receives complimentary registration and reimbursed travel expenses to attend the AAAS Annual Meeting.

The prize will be presented to Betzig at the 182nd AAAS Annual Meeting in Washington, DC, which will take place February 11-15, 2016.

Full details of the work in Science are available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.1257998.

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