Select your localized edition:

Close ×

More Ways to Connect

Discover one of our 28 local entrepreneurial communities »

Be the first to know as we launch in new countries and markets around the globe.

Interested in bringing MIT Technology Review to your local market?

MIT Technology ReviewMIT Technology Review - logo

 

Now Available: Innovators Under 35 2013 See The 2013 List »

Alice Ting, 31

Lighting cellular movies

MIT

Alice Ting's movies won't fill any theaters, but they are breaking ground in using what's called "fluorescence imaging" to reveal the minute inner workings of cells in unprecedented cinematic detail.

To make her biology-in-action movies, Ting, an assistant professor of chemistry at MIT, needed a bright and efficient light source. So her lab developed a way to, effectively, glue superbright fluorescent "tags" directly to proteins of interest. The standard way to make proteins glow is to use green fluorescent protein (GFP), originally isolated from jellyfish, and cousins that fluoresce in different colors. But these proteins produce relatively dim light, making it difficult to see single molecules or in vivo processes. They also have to be genetically fused to the proteins being studied; this can alter the proteins' behavior and prevent them from freely moving around and into cells. In contrast, Ting used quantum-dot tags that are up to 100 times brighter than GFP and interfere less with the observed proteins.

Other labs had labeled proteins with quantum dots--nanocrystals that fluoresce in different colors depending on their size--but attached them with the help of bulky antibodies. Ting's lab did away with these clunky connectors and, at the same time, created far more secure ones, fusing small protein "linkers" to both the quantum dots and the proteins of interest. Ting then used an enzyme to join her two linkers, and voilà--she could observe a living cell in action. Nor is the linking system limited to quantum dots: it can be used for any tag.

"Alice Ting is a true innovator and is one of the best chemists of her generation," says Timothy Swager, chair of MIT's chemistry department. "Scores of research groups around the world are already applying her methods." One of Ting's latest projects is to fluorescently image the junction between nerve cells, illuminating a biochemical process that appears to play a key role in learning and memory. So it may be possible one day to see an actual film of how a brain learns. "Mammalian cells are so beautiful and funky," says Ting--with the appreciation of a true director.

--Jon Cohen

2006 TR35 Winners

Apostolos Argyris

Disguising data as noise

Prithwish Basu

His passion is finding ways to connect mobile devices, sensors, and robots directly--without the need for a base station. It's called "ad hoc" networking.

Seth Coe-Sullivan

Making screens crystal clear

Stefan Duma

Better virtual  crash dummies

Christina Galitsky

Simple technologies save energy and lives

Ram K. Krishnamurthy

Cooler computers

Jane McGonigal

Designing games with new realities

Michael Raab

Making fuel ethanol more cheaply

Anand Raghunathan

Making mobile secure

Sumeet Singh

Faster defenses against computer viruses

Paris Smaragdis

Teaching machines to listen

Alice Ting

Lighting cellular movies

Advertisement

More Innovators Under 35: