Professor Xiaowei Zhuang, PhD, Heinrich Wieland Laureate 2022

Professor Xiaowei Zhuang, PhD, Heinrich Wieland Laureate 2022

Harvard University and Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Cambridge MA, USA


Xiaowei Zhuang is awarded the 2022 Heinrich Wieland Prize for developing ground-breaking single-molecule and super-resolution imaging methods and applying these to make seminal discoveries in cell biology and neurobiology. She invented STochastic Optical Reconstruction Microscopy (STORM), one of the first and most widely used methods of super-resolution imaging technologies that overcome the diffraction limit of resolution in light microscopy. STORM is based on her discovery of dyes that can be switched between dark and fluorescent states by light. With their help, she was able to separate spatially unresolvable molecules in time and thus determine their precise locations. She visualized individual molecules set apart by only ~10 nm in three dimensions in cells and demonstrated live-cell super-resolution imaging with a temporal resolution of one second. Applying STORM to neurons, Xiaowei Zhuang unveiled a periodic membrane skeleton structure in neurons. This structure is conserved from worms to humans and organizes the periodic distribution of membrane proteins such as ion channels and signaling molecules. It is important for signal transduction in neurons and for axon stability. In another body of work, Xiaowei Zhuang took high resolution imaging to the genome scale. She invented Multiplexed Error-Robust Fluorescence In Situ Hybridization (MERFISH), which allowed her to visualize more than 10,000 genes in parallel in single cells. Studying the brain with MERFISH, she revealed novel cell types, determined their spatial organizations and functions, and thereby helped elucidating neural circuits controlling behaviours. She also applied MERFISH and STORM to probe how chromatin physically folds in the nucleus. Her findings advanced our understanding of how chromatin folds into a 3D structure that regulates gene expression.

Academic Career

Xiaowei Zhuang studied physics at the University of Science and Technology of China and obtained her PhD from the University of California at Berkeley in 1996. After postdoctoral research in biophysics at Stanford, she joined the faculty at Harvard University in 2001. She became associate professor and HHMI investigator in 2005, and was promoted to full professor in 2006. In 2014, she was appointed the David B. Arnold Professor of Science. She is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Medicine, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a fellow of the American Philosophical Society, and foreign member of EMBO and the Chinese Academy of Sciences. She received numerous awards, including a MacArthur Fellowship, the Heineken Prize for Biochemistry and Biophysics of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences, the National Academy of Sciences Award for Scientific Discovery, the Vilcek Prize in Biomedical Science, and FNIH Lurie Prize in Biomedical Sciences.

Link to the full press release (published on 6 October 2022)

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