The Moscone Center
San Francisco, California, United States
2 - 7 February 2019
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BiOS Plenary Session with Stefan Hell and Karl Deisseroth

BIOS Plenary Session

The BiOS Plenary Session on Sunday evening was a chance to hear from leaders in super-resolution microscopy and optogenetics for studying neural circuit dynamics. Two high-profile speakers - Stefan Hell of the Max Planck Institute and a 2014 Nobel Laureate and 2014 Kavli Prize winner, and Karl Deisseroth, D.H. Chen Professor of Bioengineering and of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University and a pioneer in optogenetics - left the audience buzzing and breathless by the end of their respective presentations.

Hell, who shared the 2014 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with W.E. Moerner and Eric Betzig for the development of super-resolved fluorescence microscopy, took a "post-Nobel" look at the current state-of-the-art in super-resolution microscopy, focusing on far-field fluorescence nanoscopy that actually achieves molecular size (1 nm) resolution.

His presentation highlighted MINFLUX as a new far-field fluorescence nanoscopy method that combines the advantages of STED (stimulated emission depletion) with the principles of PALM (photo-activated localization microscopy). In PALM, single molecules are also excited by switching them on and off, but these molecules light up randomly versus being targeted as in STED.

Together they harness a local intensity minimum of a doughnut laser or standing wave laser to determine the coordinate of the fluorophore(s) to be registered, using an intensity minimum of the excitation light to establish the fluorophore position. The result is molecular size (1-nm) localization precision that is 100 times higher than conventional light microscopy and about 20 times higher than super-resolution light microscopy.

According to Hell, MINFLUX microscopes have the potential to become one of the most fundamental tools of cell biology, making it possible to map cells in molecular detail and to observe the rapid processes in their interior in real time. "So now we can track the position of the molecule with high precision and increase the speed of recording without the need for fluorescence."


Deisseroth is working to shed new light on not just how the brain works but how it determines human behavior. While in many circles he is best known for his pioneering work in optogenetics, Deisseroth is a neuroscientist who is also a practicing psychiatrist, and this has influenced his research for many years.

"I am a psychiatrist, but I run a basic science lab, and we are interested in understanding problems and functions of neural circuits," he said at the beginning of his plenary talk, Nature's gift: how the discovery of structural principles in a microbial protein helped illuminate the pathophysiology of psychiatry.

"We want to collect multiple kinds of data streams and bring them together. For example, we collect information on brain-wide cellular resolution activity and anatomy in behaving vertebrates to help us understand how neural circuits actually work."

His commitment to helping practitioners, patients, and the research community better understand how the physiological functions of the brain influence thought, mood, behavior, and emotion are unwavering.

"Multiple individual cell control is very powerful in principle for learning to understand how neural circuits are operating," Deisseroth said. "What are these cells? We would like to know a lot more about them."

It was clear from the audience's reaction to the session that both researchers are doing groundbreaking work that will continue to inspire others to further microscopy technologies to help understand how cells and our brains work.