PicoQuant's single molecule workshop celebrates 20th anniversary

  A record breaking number of more than 220 researchers from all over the world came to Berlin on September 2-5, 2014 to attend the annual single molecule workshop that took place for the 20th time. To celebrate this anniversary, the workshop offered an extended 4-day program with more slots for talks and posters, an open afternoon for the public, a keynote lecture by Kavli prize winner Stefan W. Hell, and a boat trip on the river Spree. The participants experienced a lively scientific exchange with excellent presentations and discussions.  

The workshop was opened with a talk by one of the early pioneers of single molecule research W.E. Moerner (Stanford University, USA). He clearly demonstrated that besides pure single molecule related research also super-resolution imaging and multimodal applications are important tools to solve real life biological questions. Besides the emerging field of life science applications also fundamental physical research was presented in several exciting talks, e.g., by Michel Orrit (Leiden University, The Netherlands), who is also recognized as one of the founders or single molecule spectroscopy. In addition to the latest developments in single molecule investigations using methods such as FLIM, FRET, and FCS, the workshop also covered recent trends in super-resolution microscopy. Techniques such as Stimulated Emission Depletion Microscopy (STED) or localization microscopy (PALM, STORM, dSTORM, GSDIM), as well as fluctuation microscopy (SOFI) have emerged and many talks were related to their application solving biological questions. One related highlight was the presentation of Xiaowei Zhuang (Harvard University, USA) about new sub cellular structure discoveries, which lead to the elucidation of the actin blueprint in axons using 3D STORM microscopy. Super-resolution microscopy and single molecule FRET were also nicely combined in the presentation of Eyal Nir (Beer Sheva, Israel), who demonstrated that it is possible to control the movement of a single DNA molecule along a given DNA Origami track over a distance of up to 400 nm. Another highlight of the workshop was the presentation of Sunney Xie (Harvard University, USA), who reported that point mutation and copy number variation, which are major dynamical changes of DNA, can now be studied at the single cell level by whole genome amplification and sequencing. This enables him in a proof of principle study to classify and select  human oocytes in in vitro fertilization in order to finally avoid miscarriage and genetic disease.  

The open afternoon on Wednesday, September 3, attracted around 30 further scientists who joined the workshop. The public session was opened by Jörg Enderlein (University Göttingen, Germany), who, as one of the co-founders of the workshop, outlined the story of single molecule fluorescence. He was followed by Stefan W. Hell (Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry, Göttingen, Germany), who presented his work on far-field optical nanoscopy. The final talk of this session was given by Sunney Xie (Harvard University, USA) about “Life at the single molecule level”. A poster session and a get-together featuring a Frisbee competition completed the open afternoon.  

The winner of this year's student award is Weixing Li from the University Göttingen, Germany. The jury, consisting of the invited speakers and PicoQuant's managing director Rainer Erdmann, considered Li's talk on “Cryo-Fluorescence Microscopy of Single Molecules” a as groundbreaking new approach and therefore decided to award the prize of 1000 EUR to him.  

A further highlight of the workshop was PicoQuant's release of a STED (stimulated emission depletion) add-on for the German market. The new super-resolution extension the time-resolved confocal microscope MicroTime 200 allows to perform measurements that break the diffraction limit of light reaching lateral resolutions below 50 nm. With live measurements all participants were invited to get a picture of the ease-of-use and capabilities of this extension and the impressive high resolution fluorescence images.   

In his concluding remarks on Friday afternoon, invited speaker Manfred Auer (University of Edinburgh, UK) praised the workshop for the positive collegial atmosphere, the fruitful discussions, and the high standard of student talks. Regarding the future of single molecule research, he pointed out that “Multiple super-resolution techniques are regularly used today and already had a big impact on solving biological key questions. Also other single molecule methods such as single molecule FRET now enter into real structural biology, particularly in combination with molecular dynamics, and site specific labeling techniques.”  

In the early 90s, when this workshop was held for the first time, Single Molecule Spectroscopy (SMS) was mainly popular in the fields of fundamental research at low temperature. Since then, SMS has evolved a lot. Today, single molecules can be detected using several techniques such as widefield and confocal fluorescence microscopy, Scanning Nearfield Optical Microscopy (SNOM), Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM) or Raman scattering. Time-resolved methods such as Fluorescence Lifetime Imaging (FLIM) or Fluorescence Correlation Spectroscopy (FCS) and even Multidimensional Fluorescence (MDF) methods are used on a daily basis in imaging facilities.  

The next Single Molecule Workshop will be held from September 2 to 4, 2015. Nine renowned speakers have already confirmed their attendance, including Taekjip Ha (University of Illinois, USA), Atsushi Miyawaki (RIKEN, Japan), and Viola Vogel (ETH Zürich, Switzerland).