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Zach Hensel Lab

In the Single Molecule Microbiology lab, we use high-resolution fluorescence microscopy techniques to detect and track individual DNA, RNA and protein molecules in living cells in order to study gene regulation and other problems in molecular cell biology.

Zach Hensel
Investigador Auxiliar
PhD in 2012, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, USA

Phone (+351) 214469724 | Extension 1724



Research Interests

Even the smallest microbial cells contain many billions of molecules, but in the Single Molecule Microbiology laboratory we focus on looking at biomolecules one at a time in the context of living microbial cells. It is important to look at single molecules because some cellular components are present at very low concentrations. DNA, mRNAs and DNA-binding proteins are often at copy numbers of fewer than 10 per cell, and the actions of single molecules can have consequences at the level of cellular behavior. Looking at single molecules also makes it possible to directly observe aspects of molecular biology that can be difficult or impossible to detect in experiments that look at the averaged behavior of many molecules.

Our group focuses on experiments in fluorescence microscopy within the context of living microbial cells. This is challenging: the crowded and chaotic environment inside the cell is not an ideal experimental system, and membranes and the cell wall make it difficult to get anything in or out of a cell (e.g. a synthetic fluorescent molecule). However, these experiments are important as it can be difficult or impossible to recreate many aspects of the intracellular environment in a test tube.

The Single Molecule Microbiology group focuses on single-molecule experiments related to the molecular biology of gene expression and regulation. We want to observe transcription, translation, and the dynamics of regulatory protein and RNA and the single-molecule level. We are interested in developing and advancing techniques in high-speed and 3D single-molecule fluorescence microscopy as well as the development of new methods for fluorescently labeling biomolecules. These experiments have applications in the basic science of microbiology as well as in synthetic biology.

Group Members


Selected Publications

  1. JPN Silva, SV Lopes, DJ Grilo, Z Hensel. Plasmids for independently tunable, low-noise expression of two genes. mSphere 4:e00340-19, 2019.

  2. Z Hensel, X Weng, AC Lagda, J Xiao. Transcription-factor-mediated DNA looping probed by high-resolution, single-molecule imaging in live E. coli cells. PLOS Biol 11. 2013.

  3. *Z Hensel, *H Feng, B Han, C Hatem, J Wang, J Xiao. Stochastic expression dynamics of a transcription factor revealed by single-molecule noise analysis. Nat Struct Mol Biol 19. 2012.
    * equal contribution

  4. Z Hensel. A plasmid-based Escherichia coli gene expression system with cell-to-cell variation below the extrinsic noise limit. PLOS ONE 12, 2017.


Laboratory's Website

For further information visit the laboratory's website




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