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May 2013 Print

Hoi-Ying Holman, Director of the Berkeley Synchrotron Infrared Structural Biology Program


Hoi-Ying Holman, head of the Chemical Ecology Group in Berkeley Lab’s Earth Sciences Division (ESD), is the director of the Berkeley Synchrotron Infrared Structural Biology (BSISB) Program (website) at ALS Beamlines 1.4 and 5.4. The ALS and ESD built the BSISB together with funding from the Department of Energy's Office of Biological and Environmental Research. ALS Infrared Group Leader Mike Martin and Beamline Scientist Hans Bechtel are part of the BSISB, which focuses on developing new technologies that draw from multiple scientific areas to address challenges in environmental sustainability, renewable energy and biomedicine.

One of the great advantages of synchrotron infrared spectromicroscopy is that it doesn’t (necessarily) kill its living subjects, as Holman explains. "In 1997 I was looking for a way to study the chemistry of microbes on rock surfaces noninvasively and in real time. On my first visit to the ALS I ran into Wayne McKinney, who told me the good news and the bad news: There was an infrared beamline, but the equipment was still in the boxes. So I became the first user of Beamline 1.4 by helping to unpack the boxes."

Holman published her first paper on real-time synchrotron IR spectromicroscopy in 1999 (PDF). By the mid 2000s, she found that in order for synchrotron IR to become a truly non-invasive molecular technique for studying the real-time biological processes in living cells, she needed to expand the current supporting capabilities to include a microfluidic platform.

Aqueous environments hinder SR-FTIR’s sensitivity to biological activity. She applied for DOE funding to develop an infrared-compatible microfluidic system, which was at that time the bottleneck of the synchrotron IR technology (see Real-Time Chemical Imaging of Bacterial Biofilm Development). This progress towards establishing IR spectromicroscopy eventually led to the BSISB ribbon cutting in 2010.

Holman earned the 2010 David A. Shirley Award for Outstanding Scientific Achievement at the ALS “for her pioneering study of living cells and their response to environmental stimuli using synchrotron-based FTIR spectromicroscopy.”

Recent research from the BSISB includes Molecular Measurements of the Deep-Sea Oil Plume in the Gulf of Mexico following the Deepwater Horizon blowout in the Gulf of Mexico. They have also monitored protein phosphorylation inside single living cells, following live chemical changes without bias and without harming the cells (Tracking Living Cells as They Differentiate in Real Time). Most recently, they helped a team of Germany scientists examine the function of a mysterious microbial community in a cold sulfur spring (Synchrotron Infrared Unveils a Mysterious Microbial Community).

Complementary imaging technologies at the BSISB include a hyper-spectral imager that allows researchers to study specimens using IR as well as visible light on the same sample. In July, the BSISB expects to install a full-field IR system that will allow researchers to do 2D spectral imaging and 3D spectral tomography.

They are also developing an instrument that will combine the microfluidic IR spectromicroscopy platform (see highlight link) with Raman microscopy and mass-spectrometry imaging. A new near-field imaging capability called nanoscopy is also in development by Bechtel and Martin, and is expected to overcome the current diffraction limit by combining atomic force microscopy with broadband IR spectroscopy.