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New Microscopy Technique Earns Mark Bates the GE & Science Prize for Young Life Scientists

For his novel research to obtain high-resolution images of biological cells and tissues, Mark Bates has been named the 2010 Grand Prize winner for the GE & Science Prize for Young Life Scientists. The annual competition, which includes a grand-prize award of $25,000, is supported by GE Healthcare and the journal Science, which is published by AAAS, the nonprofit science society.

“Our method uses light to probe the smallest structural details of biological specimens,” said Bates. “By improving the spatial resolution of the optical microscope by a factor of 10 or more, our goal is to enable researchers to see new aspects of life which have previously been hidden from view.”

Bates, the competition’s regional winner from North America, will receive the award for his research in the field of molecular biology at a ceremony in Stockholm, Sweden, on Friday 10 December. He received the grand prize for his essay, “A New Approach to Fluorescence Microscopy,” published in the 3 December issue of Science.

Mark Bates

“We are thrilled to recognize and reward promising early-career doctoral students worldwide for their outstanding scientific contributions to molecular biology,” said Monica Bradford, executive editor of Science.

Bates’ prize-winning essay describes his discovery of a new type of “optically switchable” fluorescent molecule, and how these molecules were used for high-resolution biological imaging. Bates and his colleagues at Harvard University developed a microscope capable of seeing cellular features as small as 25 nanometers in size—10 times smaller than what is possible with a conventional light microscope. Since the images are obtained using light, which is relatively harmless to the sample, their approach may be used to create time-lapse movies of living specimens with an unprecedented level of detail.

“By enabling closer examination of biological specimens, the new imaging technique may have far-reaching implications for basic research and biotechnology,” explained Bates. “Continued development may lead to applications such as improved clinical diagnoses that more accurately identify cancerous cells, or new technologies for nucleic acid sequencing.”

Bates exploited the behavior of a particular red fluorescent protein known as Cy5, whose fluorescent emission can be switched on and off with pulses of light, in order to obtain images well beyond the diffraction limit. The author refers to the new technique as stochastic optical reconstruction microscopy, or STORM. “The idea behind our method is to label the sample with fluorescent molecular tags, and then look at each individual tag one at a time, determining its position very precisely,” said Bates. “After many of the tag positions have been determined, a plot of their coordinates results in a ‘super resolution’ image of the sample, in which previously unobservable detail may be seen.”



Watch Mark Bates talk about his research with AAAS’s Natasha Pinol

“This year we celebrate the 16th anniversary of the GE & Science Prize, and I’m amazed by the continuous increase in both the number and the quality of entries over the years,” said Peter Ehrenheim, president and CEO, Life Sciences, GE Healthcare. “AAAS and the Independent Scientific Advisory Board have done a great work selecting the winners. It is particularly rewarding to see that one of the winners has graduated under the supervision of Professor Michael Hengartner, who was the first-ever prize winner in 1995. This confirms the prize is becoming an important institution which we in GE Healthcare are proud to support and develop. We hope and believe the prize will continue to be a great inspiration to young scientists around the world.”

Born in Toronto, Canada, Bates received a bachelor of science degree in engineering physics from Queen’s University, and a master of science degree in physics from McGill University. He conducted his doctoral research at Harvard University, working under the guidance of Xiaowei Zhuang, where he studied the properties of photoswitchable fluorescent molecules and applied these results to develop a new method for high-resolution optical imaging. Bates is now a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Stefan Hell in Göttingen, Germany, where he is applying super-resolution fluorescence microscopy to study prokaryotic cell biology.

Each year since 1995, the GE & Science Prize for Young Life Scientists has recognized innovative young molecular biologists at an early stage of their careers. Some 65 regional winners and 16 grand prize winners have so far received the award, honoring exceptional thesis work in the field of molecular biology.

Applicants for the 2010 GE & Science Prize for Young Life Scientists earned their Ph.D. degrees in 2009 and submitted a 1000-word essay based on their dissertations. Their essays were judged on the quality of research and the applicants’ ability to articulate how their work would contribute to the field of molecular biology, which investigates biological processes in terms of the physical and chemical properties of molecules in a cell.

A judging panel selects the GE & Science Prize for Young Life Scientists grand prize winner and presents regional awards in four geographic regions: North America, Europe, Japan and all other countries. The regional winners receive $5000 awards. In addition to the grand prize and regional winner from North America, the 2010 awards also recognize the following regional winners:

Ataman Sendoel (Europe), for his essay, “Is Death Without Oxygen as Sweet as Apoptosis? Sendoel was born in Zurich, Switzerland. He studied medicine at the Universities of Zurich and Lausanne. After finishing medical school, he joined the MD-Ph.D program of the University of Zurich. He conducted his Ph.D. work in the laboratory of Michael Hengartner, where he studied mechanisms of controlling programmed cell death in C. elegans. Sendoel is currently a postdoctoral fellow and continues to work on hypoxia responses in C. elegans.

Ataman Sendoel

Sendoel is looking at novel targets to treat melanoma. “My long-term plans are to continue to work on apoptosis in the context of tumor biology and…to bring new, intriguing scientific discoveries and new therapeutic strategies back to the bedside,” he said.

Sakiko Honjoh (Japan), for her essay, “Is Aging Necessary?” Honjoh was born in Yokohama, Japan. Inspired by a high school biology teacher, she decided to major in molecular biology and entered Kyoto University. Continuing on this track, Honjoh completed her Ph.D. in the laboratory of Eisuke Nishida at the Graduate School of Biostudies, Kyoto University, working on the signal transduction networks that regulate life-span. She is continuing her work in the same lab, still trying to elucidate the molecular changes that occur during aging.

Sakiko Honjoh

Honjoh identified several signaling genes which regulate the rate of aging and studied dietary restriction. “Restriction of food intake…is the most effective way to delay aging and extend life span in divergent species including mammals,” she wrote. “Before I began to study aging, I thought aging is inevitable and inalterable, so it was a great surprise that the rate at which we age can be modified.”

Melissa Fullwood (All other countries), for her essay, “Genome-wide Chromatin Loops Regulate Transcription.” Fullwood was born and raised in Singapore. She graduated from Stanford University in 2005 and completed her Ph.D. in 2009 at the Genome Institute of Singapore under the auspices of the National University of Singapore (NUS) Graduate School for Integrative Sciences and Engineering, where she was supervised by Yijun Ruan. In 2009, she was selected for the inaugural L’Oreal for Women in Science National Fellowships in Singapore. She is currently a Lee Kuan Yew Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School Singapore under the supervision of Shirish Shenolikar.

Melissa Fullwood

Fullwood was inspired to answer one or more of the “top 25” unanswered questions that were identified in a 2005 issue of Science. “My Ph.D. project demonstrated that there is an abundant, complex network of chromatin interaction between genes and non coding regions of the genome,” she said. “Chromatin interactions could also be of clinical significance as biomarkers of diseases such as cancer, for example through facilitating disease causing translocations, or aberrant regulation of oncogenes and tumor suppressors.”

About GE Healthcare Life Sciences

GE Healthcare Life Sciences delivers breakthroughs in drug discovery, biopharmaceutical manufacturing and the latest in cellular technologies, so scientists and specialists around the world discover new ways to predict, diagnose, and treat disease.

About GE Healthcare

GE Healthcare provides transformational medical technologies and services that are shaping a new age of patient care. Our broad expertise in medical imaging and information technologies, medical diagnostics, patient monitoring systems, drug discovery, biopharmaceutical manufacturing technologies, performance improvement and performance solutions services help our customers to deliver better care to more people around the world at a lower cost. In addition, we partner with healthcare leaders, striving to leverage the global policy change necessary to implement a successful shift to sustainable healthcare systems. Our “healthymagination” vision for the future invites the world to join us on our journey as we continuously develop innovations focused on reducing costs, increasing access and improving quality around the world. Headquartered in the United Kingdom, GE Healthcare is a unit of General Electric Company (NYSE: GE). Worldwide, GE Healthcare employees are committed to serving healthcare professionals and their patients in more than 100 countries.

About Science/AAAS

Science is a leading international journal covering all scientific disciplines. It is published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world’s largest general scientific organization. AAAS was founded in 1848, and serves 262 affiliated societies and academies of science, reaching 10 million individuals. Science has the largest paid circulation of any peer-reviewed general science journal in the world, with an estimated total readership of 1 million. AAAS is a non-profit organization open to all; it fulfills its mission to “advance science and serve society” through initiatives in science policy; international programs; science education; and more. For the latest research news, log onto EurekAlert!, the premier science-news Web site, a service of AAAS.


View a Skype interview with Mark Bates, winner of the 2010 GE & Science Prize for Young Life Scientists.

Read the full text of essays by the regional winners and get information about applying for next year’s award.

Learn more about the GE & Science Prize for Young Life Scientists.