Funding Announced for New Biological Facilities at Diamond Light Source, UK
17 Dec 2013

The landmark silver doughnut-shaped building on the Harwell Campus has just been granted £15.6 million for a new imaging center for biology. The facility is being funded by a grant from the Wellcome Trust, the Medical Research Council (MRC) and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

The new center will join one of Diamond’s Phase III beamlines – the X-ray nanoprobe which will stand outside the doughnut, housed in its own building. It will operate like a beamline and although not connected to the powerful synchrotron light source, it will provide scientists with state-of-the-art experimental equipment and expertise that will complement Diamond’s current capabilities. The powerful cryo-electron microscopes will peep into the structure of the cell to help further understand molecular make-up and will provide new tools to visualize single bio-molecules.

This new center will offer the imaging approaches of single particle analysis of biological macromolecules and cellular tomography, as well as electron crystallography. These techniques will complement the atomic mapping possible with macromolecular crystallography beamlines, the elemental mapping in cells provided by the X-ray nanoprobe and the larger scale cell imaging capability of the new Full Field Cryo Transmission X-ray Microscope (cryo-TXM).

The facility will provide two high end Cryo-Electron microscopes, sample preparation laboratory with a super-resolution fluorescence microscope and equipment for vitreous sectioning with an ion-milling beam.

Commenting on the funding announcement, lead academic involved Prof Helen Saibil, Bernal Professor of Structural Biology at Birkbeck College says:
“When this facility becomes available it will enable more and higher quality science – we expect it to be a big stimulus to structural and cellular biology in the UK and Europe. Many crystallographers and cell biologists express an interest in these methods but don’t have access to the required facilities and expertise – the center will provide training and technical support.”

It will enable broad, cost-effective access to these specialized techniques, as it is not practical and affordable to distribute such facilities to all laboratories using this key technology. Increasingly, the combination of advanced methods is needed to understand biology at the molecular level; and so synergy with the other techniques offered by Diamond makes it an ideal location, where strong expertise and infrastructure are already in place.

Prof Dave Stuart, Life Science Director at Diamond Light Source, MRC Professor of Structural Biology at the Department of Medicine University of Oxford, and Director of the European Instruct project, adds: “Diamond is delighted to be home to this new facility through the new grant awarded by the Wellcome Trust in collaboration with BBSRC and MRC. This new investment will provide a unique approach which will integrate the activities of the synchrotron and the capabilities of electron microscopy. It will create a new synergy between the scientific techniques on offer. It is hoped that through this major advances in visualizing of sub cellular mechanisms will be made.”

Dr. Michael Dunn, Head of Genetic and Molecular Sciences at the Wellcome Trust, said: "We are pleased to be involved in this exciting venture, together with MRC and BBSRC, which will enable UK research to remain at the cutting edge of structural biology."

As cryo-electron microscopy is becoming increasing specialized and expensive for university departments to build and operate, a centralized approach to such biological facilities is the way forward to optimize costs and usage.

The facility will be designed, built and operated in a similar way to any of the beamlines at Diamond. A facility leader will be appointed to ensure international scientific leadership.

The facility will be accessed through peer review and opened to UK, EU and international scientists.

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