The 2018 Nobel Prize for Physics has been awarded to Arthur Ashkin of Bell Labs, Gérard Mourou, École Polytechnique, Palaiseau, France
and the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor and Donna Strickland, University of Waterloo, Canada for work on laser pulses that led to the development of “optical tweezers” that use lasers to manipulate small objects.
The invention of optical tweezers made it possible for UC Davis biologists led by Professor Stephen Kowalczykowski and the late Professor Ron Baskin to design experiments where they could manipulate and observe single DNA molecules being copied in real time. In 2001, they used optical tweezers to move a tiny bead with a piece of DNA attached under a microscope, where they could watch a helicase enzyme unwind the DNA — the first step to copying or repairing it.
The work began with a chance hallway encounter in 1996. Baskin, a microbiologist and Yin Yeh, professor of applied science at UC Davis had built an optical trap device and invited Kowalczykowski to check it out.
“Within 15 minutes, we’d mapped out a series of experiments to see the RecBCD (helicase) enzyme travel down DNA,” Kowalczykowski said in 2005.
Since then, this “single molecule biochemistry” pioneered in Kowalczykowski’s lab has led to a series of discoveries about how DNA is copied and repaired. The UC Davis researchers also helped to identify and characterize the protein produced by the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes.
Close-Up View of DNA Replication Yields Surprises (UC Davis News)