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Launching a New Era in Structural Biology: Insights on Single-Particle Cryo-EM from Nobel Laureate Professor Joachim Frank

May 17, 2024

Develop. Grow. Succeed.

On May 17, GEC Academy successfully hosted the Global Top Scientists Forum, titled “Cryo-EM of Biomolecules - A Cold Look at the Building Blocks of Life.” Professor Joachim Frank, a Nobel laureate, delivered an online lecture, imparting his profound insights to a diverse audience consisting primarily of university students majoring in Physics, Biology, and Chemistry, as well as esteemed educators and professors from universities both in China and abroad. Throughout the lecture, Professor Frank elucidated complex scientific concepts, explaining the pivotal role of cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) in structural biology and its profound implications for biological imaging, particularly its critical role in developing therapeutics and vaccines for COVID-19.

Professor Frank Introducing the Theme of the Forum


Professor Joachim Frank is a Nobel laureate and Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics and Biological Sciences at Columbia University. He revolutionized cryo-EM, achieving high-precision analysis of biomolecular structures in solution, which earned him the 2017 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. This was the second occasion on which Professor Frank attended GEC Global Top Scientists Forum as a guest lecturer. Previously, he presented a thorough analysis of trending topics in cryo-EM and highlighted the effectiveness of single-particle cryo-EM in visualizing interactions between biomolecules.

Professor Frank Outlining the Contents of the Forum


While tracing his educational and research journey at the beginning of the lecture, Professor Frank provided a thorough background for understanding his research and achievements in structural biology. He detailed the various stages of his career, highlighting noteworthy contributions and milestones that have profoundly influenced his advancements in cryo-EM and single-particle reconstruction, especially in ribosome structure studies. By adopting an interdisciplinary approach that merges physics, biology, and chemistry, Professor Frank underscored the significance of interdisciplinary collaboration in advancing scientific knowledge, aiming to motivate the attendees to explore innovative paths in scientific discovery.

Professor Frank Recalling His Academic Journey


In his comprehensive lecture, Professor Frank then detailed the basic principles of cryo-EM and summarized the multidimensional methods used in molecular structure research, including protein purification and electron microscopy. He highlighted how visualizing macromolecules at high resolution provides critical insights into their functions. Delving deeper, Professor Frank discussed the pivotal role of electron microscopy in biological specimen analysis, focusing on single-particle methods that enable the reconstruction of 3D structures from 2D images. He illustrated how the advent of direct electron detection cameras has significantly improved image quality, achieving near-atomic resolution. Building on this foundation, Professor Frank explained the invaluable utility of cryo-EM in mapping viral structures, refining drug design, and understanding disease mechanisms. He emphasized the essential role cryo-EM played in the development of COVID-19 vaccines, facilitating the understanding of the virus’s spike protein and the design of effective vaccines. At the end of his lecture, Professor Frank reflected on his journey as the 2017 Nobel laureate in Chemistry. His trailblazing work in cryo-EM have revolutionized structural biology.

Professor Frank Explaining the Structure of Transmission Electron Microscope (TEM)


The forum concluded with an insightful Q&A session, featuring Professor Frank and Professor Roger Dannenberg of Carnegie Mellon University, a long-time faculty member of GEC Academy. They engaged in an in-depth dialogue regarding particles and reconstructive technology. Professor Dannenberg queried the number of particles needed for 3D reconstructions of large molecules, to which Professor Frank explained that typically tens of thousands of good particles are required, depending on the sample’s behavior. For students, Professor Frank stressed the importance of cultivating a broad awareness, or “peripheral vision” in problem-solving, which involves being open to various sources of inspiration and learning from a wide range of experiences. Concerning artificial intelligence, Professor Frank advised students to prioritize the development of their foundational scientific knowledge and problem-solving skills instead of over-relying on AI. He suggested using AI as a tool while maintaining a solid foundation in scientific knowledge and critical thinking.


Professor Frank Offering Valuable Academic Advice


  • What’s Next?


We are excited to announce the upcoming Global Top Scientists Forum on July 12th, focusing on the intriguing topic of “How Cells Secrete Proteins and RNA.” by Professor Randy W. Schekman, the 2013 Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine. This event will be held via Zoom from 8:00 AM to 9:00 AM, Beijing time (Meeting ID: 875 0116 4378; Passcode: 240712). We extend a warm invitation to all individuals with an interest in this topic.

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