SNI/Biozentrum Lecture all about cryo-electron microscopy

On the initiative of Dr. Markus Dürrenberger, head of the Nano Imaging Lab, a mini-symposium was held in April with Nobel laureate Professor Jacques Dubochet, Professor Ueli Aebi, and Professor Andreas Engel. The symposium was organized jointly by the SNI and the Biozentrum.

The three scientists, whose academic careers began under Professor Eduard Kellenberger at the Biozentrum, offered an insight into the fascinating world of cryo-electron microscopy for well over 300 visitors in a packed lecture hall.

Thanks to the development of shock freezing, for which Dubochet was awarded a Nobel Prize last year, biological samples can be frozen instantly in their natural environment to avoid the formation of ice crystals, which would destroy the sample. Even in the vacuum present in an electron microscope, the shock-frozen samples remain intact and can be analyzed in detail.

After Ueli Aebi had presented a historical view of the development of cryo-electron microscopy, Jacques Dubochet captivated listeners of all ages with a talk on the research that earned him the Nobel Prize. As well as entertaining and informing the audience, however, he also gave them food for thought. “We’re very good at acquiring knowledge – but not at using it for the common good,” he said. He ended his lively and exciting talk with the song “Imagine” by

 John Lennon, urging the audience to make scientific findings a public good and to pursue the vision to use this knowledege for the well-being of all.

This entertaining and wide-ranging presentation was a hard act for Andreas Engel to follow. Nevertheless, everyone listened eagerly as he explained where the development of cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) has led us today. His explanations highlighted how the achievement of a perfect sample, as well as the development of better microscopes and cameras, has contributed to the success of cryo-EM, providing structural biologists with an ideal tool for depicting the three-dimensional structure of proteins.

“It was wonderful to witness the enthusiasm of Jacques Dubochet, Ueli Aebi, and Andreas Engel and to see how they inspired the many students and scientists present in the audience,” said Professor Christian Schönenberger, who acted as the event’s host and moderator and also learned a thing or two himself.

More information about cryo-electron microscopy and the Nobel Lecture by Jacques Dubochet at: