News Center

7 Imaging Tools Pushing Science Forward


Berkeley Lab scientists are developing new ways to see the unseen. Here are seven imaging advances (recently reported in our News Center) that are helping to push science forward, from developing better batteries to peering inside cells to exploring the nature of the universe.   1. Seeing DNA nanostructures in 3-D DNA segments can serve as a

Genes, Early Environment Sculpt the Gut Microbiome

Mice raised in built environments with different relative abundances of diverse microbes (left and right) have a correspondingly diverse gut microbiome. These signature characteristics remained even when the mice were moved to a new facility, and they persisted into the next generation. (Credit: Zosia Rostomian/Berkeley Lab)

Scientists from Berkeley Lab and PNNL have found that genes and early environment play big roles in shaping the gut microbiome. The microbes retained a clear “signature” formed where the mice were first raised, and the characteristics carried over to the next generation. The findings could potentially be used to develop designer diets optimized to an individual’s microbiome.

X-Rays Capture Unprecedented Images of Photosynthesis in Action

Structure of the oxygen evolving complex in photosystem II in a light-activated state. Water molecules are shown as blue spheres, the four manganese atoms in purple, the calcium in green and the bridging oxygens in red. The blue mesh is the experimental electron density, and the blue solid lines are the protein side chains that provide a scaffold for the catalytic complex.

An international team of scientists is providing new insight into the process by which plants use light to split water and create oxygen. In experiments led by Berkeley Lab scientists, ultrafast X-ray lasers were able to capture atomic-scale images of a protein complex found in plants, algae, and cyanobacteria at room temperature.

Crop Yield Gets Boost with Modified Genes in Photosynthesis

Tobacco leaves showing transient overexpression of genes involved in nonphotochemical quenching (NPQ), a system that protects plants from light damage. Red and yellow regions represent low NPQ activity, while blue and purple areas show high levels induced by exposure to light. (Credit: Lauriebeth Leonelli and Matthew Brooks/UC Berkeley)

Berkeley and Illinois researchers have bumped up crop productivity by as much as 20 percent by increasing the expression of genes that result in more efficient use of light in photosynthesis. Their work could potentially be used to help address the world’s future food needs.

3-D Imaging Technique Maps Migration of DNA-carrying Material at the Center of Cells

Image - This image shows the skeletonized structure of heterochromatin (red represents a thin region while white represents a thick region), a tightly packed form of DNA, surrounding another form of DNA-carrying material known as euchromatin (dark blue represents a thin region and yellow represent the thickest) in a mouse’s mature nerve cell. (Credit: Berkeley Lab, UCSF)

Scientists have produced detailed 3-D visualizations that show an unexpected connectivity in the genetic material at the center of cells, providing a new understanding of a cell’s evolving architecture.

Solar Cells Get Boost with Integration of Water-Splitting Catalyst onto Semiconductor

Schematic of the multi-functional water splitting catalyst layer engineered using atomic layer deposition for integration with a high-efficiency silicon cell. (Credit: Ian Sharp/Berkeley Lab)

Berkeley Lab scientists have found a way to engineer the atomic-scale chemical properties of a water-splitting catalyst for integration with a solar cell, and the result is a big boost to the stability and efficiency of artificial photosynthesis. The research comes out of the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis (JCAP), established to develop a cost-effective method of turning sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide into fuel.

Berkeley Lab Takes Home Five R&D 100 Awards for Environmental, Battery, and X-ray Technologies

Photo - The Compact Dynamic Beamstop (CDBS) device, at left, designed to provide real time information to improve X-ray crystallography experiments, with a size comparison to a ballpoint pen tip. (Credit: Berkeley Lab)

Berkeley Lab-developed tech enabling energy-saving roofs, long-lived batteries, better data from X-ray experiments, safer drinking water, and reduced carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have received 2016 R&D 100 awards.

Gatekeeping Proteins to Aberrant RNA: You Shall Not Pass

Schematic of a gateway in the nuclear membrane, known as the nuclear pore complex (NPC), and the proteins (shown as spheres) involved in transport and quality control of mRNAs (shown in red). A combination of a multitude of protein-protein interactions enables the cell to distinguish and keep aberrant mRNAs from exiting the nucleus. (Credit: Mohammad Soheilypour/Berkeley Lab)

Berkeley Lab researchers found that aberrant strands of genetic code have telltale signs that enable gateway proteins to recognize and block them from exiting the nucleus. Their findings shed light on a complex system of cell regulation that acts as a form of quality control for the transport of genetic information. A more complete picture of how genetic information gets expressed in cells is important in disease research.

Navigating an Ocean of Biological Data in the Modern Era


Scientists and software engineers at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)’s Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) have developed a new -omics visualization tool, Arrowland, which combines different realms of functional genomics data in a single intuitive interface. The aim of this system is to provide scientists an easier way to navigate the ever-growing amounts of biological

For Normal Heart Function, Look Beyond the Genes

On the left, a mouse embryo showing enhancer activity (blue staining) in the developing heart. On the right, a closeup of this heart, showing that the enhancer is active in the left ventricle, left atrium, and right atrium of the heart. (Credit: Mammalian Functional Genomics Laboratory/Berkeley Lab)

Berkeley Lab researchers have compiled a comprehensive genome-wide map of more than 80,000 enhancers considered relevant to human heart development and function. They went on to test two of the enhancers in mice, showing that when the enhancers were missing, the heart worked abnormally.