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In the Focus

2017 Nobel Laureate Joachim Frank Guest Lectured on Cryo-Electron Microscopy

Jul 6, 2018 Lecture Series

On July 6, Nobel Laureate in Chemistry and Columbia University Professor Joachim Frank delivered a guest lecture at SUSTech titled “Single-Particle Cryo-EM – Visualization of Biological Molecules in Their Native States,” hosted by SUSTech President Chen Shiyi. The lecture hall was packed with students, faculty members and researchers from SUSTech and other institutions.

President Chen Shiyi made the opening speech, warmly welcomed Joachim Frank on behalf of SUSTech and highly praised Joachim’s achievements in Cryo-EM, which earned him the Nobel Prize. Chen believed Cryo-EM could be used in new medicine development and diagnosis of difficult diseases, which would, in turn, contribute to the development of human society. Chen pointed out that SUSTech was about to open its own Cryo-EM Innovation and Research Center (Cryo-EM Center), which would implement Joachim Frank’s great researching findings with world-leading technologies and equipment.

In the lecture, Professor Joachim Frank said the invention of single-particle Cryo-EM through direct electron detection technology opened a new chapter of structural biology. Cryo-EM has significantly enhanced the analytical structure resolution, making it comparable with X-Ray crystallography. Moreover, the state of the molecules to be studied can be preserved like they were in an intracellular environment with the help of Cryo-EM. These factors have contributed to the increasing popularity of Cryo-EM.

With Cryo-EM, researchers can now freeze molecules mid-movement and visualize processes they have never previously seen, which is decisive for both the basic understanding of life's chemistry and for the development of pharmaceuticals. They can also routinely produce three-dimensional structures of molecules. In the past few years, scientific literature has been filled with images of everything from proteins that cause antibiotic resistance, to the surface of the Zika virus.

Professor Frank also talked about some basic preparation work of Cryo-EM, such as ribosome extraction, bacteria’s helical structure, and glucose embedding, as well as experimental methods like single particle technique and quick-freezing. Besides looking over the 40-year history of Cryo-EM, he also evaluated the prospects in biology and molecular medicine. Last but not least, Frank made an interesting illustration by comparing Cryo-EM to Beijing’s Forbidden City and received rounds and rounds of applause.

After the lecture and Q&A session, Director of Cryo-EM Center Wang Peiyi awarded Joachim Frank an honorary certificate on behalf of the university.

About Joachim Frank:

Dr. Joachim Frank is a Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics and of Biological Sciences at Columbia University. He is regarded as the founder of single-particle cryo-EM, for which he shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2017 with Jacques Dubochet and Richard Henderson. He also made significant contributions to structure and function of the ribosome from bacteria and eukaryotes.

Dr. Frank shared the Elizabeth Robert Cole Award of the Biophysics Society with David De Rosier for developing methods of three-dimensional reconstruction of biological macromolecules. He is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Biophysical Society and was invited by the Biophysical Society to give the National Lecture in 2005. In 2006 he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Academy for Microbiology. He received the 2014 Franklin Medal in Life Science, bestowed by the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia.


About SUSTech’s Cryo-EM Center:

The SUSTech Cryo-Electron Microscopy Innovation & Research Center (Cryo-EM Center) will officially open in late 2018 and will become China’s most advanced cryo-microscope laboratory. Detailed plans to establish the center were put into place in June 2017, and leading structural biologist Yang Maojun was invited to undertake the project. The center has since attracted top experts and young professionals from across the globe, including Sun Senfang, the only Chinese Academy of Sciences member specializing in cryo-microscopy. He is also China's first researcher to work on biomacromolecules with cryo-electron microscopes.


Original Chinese Article: Tong Xiaojin

Translation & Video Clip Subtitles: Fan Yining

Video Clip Production: Zheng Yijun

Photos: Zhang Xiaoyan

English Proofreading: Chris Edwards


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