Two faculty named fellows of American Academy of Microbiology

The American Academy of Microbiology has named two Washington University in St. Louis faculty members as fellows: Robert Blankenship, PhD, and John Heuser, MD.


Heuser devised a way to freeze cells in about one-ten-thousandth of a second by driving them onto a block of copper cooled to minus 450 degrees Fahrenheit.

These “quick-frozen” cells can then be split open, “deep etched” to remove some of the ice, and coated with an ultrathin film of metallic platinum so they can be imaged with an electron microscope.

For decades, Heuser has used this technique to capture details of the molecular mechanisms that underlie many basic biological activities, including nerve cell signal-transmission, muscle contraction, and most recently, the fusion of viruses with cells during the spread of infection.

His “Heusergrams” have won praise not only for the scientific insights they reveal but also for their unexpected artistic merit.

Heuser’s colleagues recently arranged an exhibit of his work on the School of Medicine campus. The images are now permanently displayed on the third floor of the Farrell Learning and Teaching Center, near the histology labs where medical students will have some of their first encounters with the cells and tissue structures seen in Heuser’s micrographs.


Blankenship, the Lucille P. Markey Distinguished Professor of Arts and Sciences and professor of biology, studies the highly interdisciplinary subject of photosynthesis.

He has studied energy transfer and electron transfer processes in antenna and reaction center complexes (the two major components of photosynthetic systems) from all major groups of photosynthetic organisms, with primary emphasis on the anoxygenic photosynthetic bacteria.

He also has done genome sequencing and annotation along with molecular evolutionary studies aimed at understanding the origin and early evolution of photosynthesis.

Recent work is targeted to improving the efficiency of photosynthesis in bio-energy contexts.

The author of over 300 scientific publications in the area of photosynthesis, in 2009, he became the founding director of the Photosynthetic Antenna Research Center (PARC), a DOE Energy Frontier Research Center at WUSTL.

He also is organizer for the 16th International Congress on Photosynthetic Research, which will be held in St. Louis in August 2013.