Having the free continental breakfast outside in the Southern California sun was a wonderful start to the BPS conference for me. I spent most of the day in the Nanoscale Biophysics subgroup talks, which was frequently packed with only seats in the front being readily available. The most interesting talk for me was the Nanocrystal applications for single molecule imaging from Paul Alivisatos’s group because of its application of in vivo measurements of nanometer-scale DNA bending during caspase-3 cleavage. Being able to use gold nanoparticles for such small length scale measurements over tens of minutes is just cool!
For innovation, I really enjoyed the talk from Jörg Wrachtrup’s group on the use of diamond sensors to measure magnetic spins together with microscopy. It was pretty tough to understand everything, but it seemed to be resolving a fluorescent (bright) ground state from a (dark) excited spin state, accessed only in the presence of a magnetic field. The part I found the most appealing is the use to measure rotation. This would be awesome to try tracking things in vivo being pulled along the cytoskeleton or any other cellular process that can have a small diamond attached to it and is thought to rotate.
Carlos Bustamante’s talk on the DNA packing proteins from a phage virus was great for how methodically it was presented: situation for how the molecule could work, kinetic model for how the parts work together, then resolution of the possible models using highly precise optical traps – cool and clean. It was nicely presented in starting with how you would imagine it working if you didn’t know anything else – basically that each of the monomers in the pentameric structure would fire sequentially, so you see about one base pair getting packed into the capsid at a time. Then bam, experiment confounds you with massive steps that occur together. So the thing works totally differently from what we would initially imagine. Then with his groups optical trapping artistry, they were able to describe how four of the five monomers move together in a bursting motion and the fifth monomer is like a rectifying gate keeper. Well, that was my take and I really enjoyed it.
Finally Sunney Xie’s talk was really cool, describing some advances in Stimulated Raman Scattering Microscopy that provided images of brain tissue slices rivaling the detail of histological staining, but WITHOUT any labels whatsoever! Using just the Raman spectra of water an lipid, his group has been able to see tumor boarders in a fashion that doesn’t require labels and is potentially non-invasive.
Alright, I’m out to see SD and hopefully use this BPS badge to save me some cash as well as grant me the access to this top notch science!