Pioneering Advances in Molecular Science and Biotechnology: Grand opening of the Bio21 Ruth Bishop Building & Ian Holmes Imaging Centre

The unveiling of the new Ruth Bishop Building and Ian Holmes Imaging Centre marks the opening of a world-leading hub for interdisciplinary collaboration between researchers and for advancements in global molecular science and biotechnology.

Image:  the Ian Holmes Imaging Centre, Bio21 Molecular Science & Biotechnology Institute, The University of MelbourneLegend: The Ruth Bishop Building to the left (which houses the Ian Holmes Imaging Centre) and the Nancy Millis Building on the right. 

When entering the vicinity of the Royal Melbourne Hospital, a striking sight might greet you on the corner of Park Drive and Storey Street: a stone white horse rearing its head from a weathered red brick wall. This historical landmark simultaneously marks the previously known Hay, Corn, and Horse Market, and recently, signifies the new editions to the Bio21 sector at The University of Melbourne–the Ruth Bishop Building and Ian Holmes Imaging Centre (IHIC).

Image:  1855 University of Melbourne building plan

In a parallel world without COVID, the unofficial ‘official’ opening of the Ruth Bishop and Ian Holmes Imaging Centre would be in the spring of 2020, following the completion of the Melbourne Advanced Microscopy Facility at the Bio21 Institute–an instrumental development part of the institute's Stage 2C vision.

Yet it was only recently that we marked the significant milestone with the official opening of the two new buildings. Professor Michael Parker, Director of the Bio21 Institute was the master of ceremonies and spoke at the special occasion:

The 6th of May, 2024 was an auspicious day for the Bio21 Institute and the University of Melbourne with the long-awaited opening of the Ruth Bishop building and the Ian Holmes Imaging Centre to house cutting-edge electron microscopes. Electron microscopes are powerful instruments that can visualise the world of cells, from bacteria to human, and viruses and their contents.

Image: over 70 people attended the opening of the Ruth Bishop Building and Ian Holmes Imaging Centre on the afternoon of May 6th, 2024–including the families of Ruth Bishop and Ian Holmes. 

The Bio21 Institute of Molecular Science and Biotechnology is one of the leading and largest life sciences institutes in Australia dedicated to unraveling the mysteries of human health and disease at a molecule level, to improve global patient health through biotechnology. Historically, it was the University’s first cross-faculty institute housing over 800 research scientists specialising in biochemistry, molecular and cell biology, microbiology, chemistry, and other life sciences–making it one of the largest biotechnology research centres in Australia.

Surprisingly, it was built on one of Melbourne’s earliest manure dumps! Now the Ruth Bishop Building and Ian Holmes Imaging Centre houses state-of-the-art electron microscopes–equipment that cost more than the whole building project. A world-standard feat that was only possible with the generous support of the institute's long-term partners WEHI, Monash University, and CSL.

Image: electron microscopes at the Ian Holmes Imaging Centre

The Ian Holmes Imaging Centre stands as a global beacon of innovation –a leading biological electron microscopy centre in Australia. Complementing the x-ray, ion, and atomic nuclei to image structures currently utilised at Bio21.

There has already been major high-impact biotechnology breakthroughs at the Centre. In a collaboration between researchers, Eric Hanssen and Andrew Leis (previously with Bio21) and the Doherty Institute’s, Jason Roberts, Julian Druce, and Mike Catton–these scientists utilised Bio21's Transmission Electron Microscopes (L120 and F30) to capture the first images of the isolated and cultured SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus outside China. Their significant contributions were one of the first pivotal steps that led to the vaccine and drugs fighting coronavirus today.

"The Ruth Bishop Building is the latest Bio21 building to honour the contributions of the University of Melbourne's female scientists, joining the Nancy Millis Building which opened in 2018 and the Elizabeth Blackburn Science School which opened in 2015."

The Ruth Bishop Building and the Ian Holmes Imaging Centre pay homage to two remarkable individuals whose contributions to science have left an enduring mark on global health and uphold another vital mission of Bio21–a space to encourage interdisciplinary collaboration between researchers to contribute to the overall global health.

Such cross-disciplinary collaborations are at the very core of what Bio21 fosters and encourages. We are proud to name our latest building and platform space after Ruth and Ian.

Both Ruth Bishop and Ian Holmes began their academic journey at The University of Melbourne, each completing an undergraduate Bachelor of Science degree and moving on to obtain further academic achievements within and outside the University. Ian Holmes previously worked in the University’s Department of Microbiology while Ruth was a Professorial Fellow in the Department of Paediatrics at the University.

Dr Stuart Ralph, Head of the Department of Biochemistry and Pharmacology at the University of Melbourne reflects:

Collaboration between a microbiologist and structural biologist led to the development of vaccines that have saved the lives of many children around the world.

It was in the 1970s, Ruth Bishop alongside her colleagues Geoffrey Davidson, Ian Holmes, and Brian Ruck, made a seminal discovery by identifying rotavirus as the culprit behind a deadly form of gastroenteritis–estimated to kill more than half a million children annually worldwide. In 1973, Ruth and Ian's partnership was instrumental. While working at the University’s Department of Microbiology, Ian Holme’s unparalleled expertise in electron microscopy, combined with Ruth's research undertaken at the Royal Children’s Hospital, enabled the identification of the elusive virus in intestinal biopsies collected by her team. Their breakthrough not only led to the development of life-saving vaccines but also paved the way for future advancements in virology and immunology. Ruth Bishop’s impact extended far beyond her discovery, earning her recognition as a major influence in the establishment of the Bill & Melinda Gates Global Health Foundation.

“His contribution was huge because he was an expert electron microscopist, perhaps one of the most experienced and expert in the world at that time. In the first biopsy of the first child we looked at there was this previously unidentified virus.”

A quote from the late Ruth Bishop on Ian Holmes and their work

It is Bio21’s vision, spearheaded by the former Director, Professor Malcolm McConville, and his colleagues, which saw the centre as a vibrant biomedical community supplying the most cutting-edge technology.

The grand opening of these new facilities stands as a testament to the remarkable teamwork and collaboration between Professors Eric Hanssen (IHIC platform manager), Malcolm McConville, and Michael Parker as well as the architects (Architectus), planners, builders (Kane Constructions) and project managers at the University which allowed the concept to become a reality–paving the way for transformative discoveries in the field of molecular science and biotechnology.