In the shadow of The Shard at the end of August, I joined about ~120 scientists at KCL for the 4th Single Molecule Localisation Microscopy Symposium. This 3-day meeting preceded the announcement in October that the Nobel Prize in Chemistry had been awarded to Eric Betzig, Stefan Hell and William E. Moerner for their contributions to the field of super-resolution (SR) microscopy (which includes SMLM approaches), but it was already very clear from the content and calibre of the programme that the field was having an important impact on several key areas of biological research.
The Symposium was superbly organized by Helge Ewers, Mike Heilemann, Aleksandra Radenovic, and Jean-Baptiste Sibarita; the only real disappointment being the cancellation of Stefan Hell’s keynote lecture due to illness. The 25 talks were divided into 5 broad topics: technical developments; biological systems; quantitative localization microscopy; labelling; and data analysis. It was particularly pleasing from my perspective that women researchers were well-represented, with at least 1 female speaker in all but 1 of the high quality sessions. Nature Protocols authors were also among the speakers1, 2. The full schedule of talks can be found here.
I found most of the talks to be surprisingly accessible and, as someone very interested in techniques and methods, there was a lot to hold my attention. Much effort is being expended on improving SMLM with respect to: the achievable resolution, especially axially; its live imaging capabilities; and quantitative applications. Progress in all these areas largely relies on a combination of new microscope setups, improved labels, and advanced data analysis methods. Biological applications discussed included nanoscale clustering of membrane proteins (particularly during synaptic and T cell signalling in mammalian cells), molecular assembly/organisation of protein complexes, and single particle tracking. The talks were complemented by ~60 posters, which covered additional applications such as imaging the cytoskeleton, chromatin structure, and plant tissues.
But it wasn’t all hard work – attendees were treated to an evening boat trip along the Thames, which provided the opportunity for less formal discussions over dinner, whilst enjoying the beautiful views on offer. I spent a very enjoyable evening in the company of a lovely group of PhD students and young post-docs discussing life the universe and everything – and trying not to feel my age!
At the close of my 3-day crash course in SMLM, I certainly felt much better-informed and very much inspired by the amazing work being done by this small but enthusiastic community. It is certainly an area of research I will continue to follow closely – perhaps a trip to Bordeaux is on the cards for next year!
1. Quantitative imaging of membrane lipid order in cells and organisms Dylan M Owen, Carles Rentero, Astrid Magenau, Ahmed Abu-Siniyeh & Katharina Gaus Nature Protocols 7, 24–35 (2012) doi:10.1038/nprot.2011.419
2. Direct stochastic optical reconstruction microscopy with standard fluorescent probes Sebastian van de Linde, Anna Löschberger, Teresa Klein, Meike Heidbreder, Steve Wolter, Mike Heilemann & Markus Sauer Nature Protocols 6, 991–1009 (2011) doi:10.1038/nprot.2011.336