Cryo-EM win for UK science

Editorial

Rebecca Pool

Thursday, March 9, 2017 - 14:15
Image: 3D cryo-EM map of a macromolecule (L) and its derived protein structure (R). [Speck lab]
 
A facility for cryo-electron microscopy is being established by a consortium of UK institutions, including Imperial College London, University of York, University of Exeter, University of Cambridge and Birkbeck, University of London.
 
The facility will support UK structural biologists and is funded by the Wellcome Trust with strong institutional support.
 
Plans are underway to site the facility at the Francis Crick Institute.
 
The new instrument, which is the current state-of-the-art of cryo-EM technology, is due to arrive within the year and is expected to be operational in early 2018.
 
The cryo-EM is hoped to be part of a larger cryo-EM facility at Crick that will facilitate further interactions between the consortium institutions and Crick researchers.
 
A bacterial pore-forming toxin captured by cryo-electron microscopy; the dark blue ring is the protein which attacks host membranes. [Helen Saibil, Wellcome Images]
 
Professor Xiaodong Zhang, the lead Principal Investigator for the new facility, from the Department of Medicine at Imperial, says: “To have rapid local access to this new technology is absolutely key for our research and discovery as well as for maintaining our international competitiveness."
 
Zhang works on large macromolecular machines involved in a number of fundamental biological pathways, including DNA damage repair in humans and gene transcription in bacteria.
 
“We had been working on the mechanism of gene transcription for 10-15 years," explains Zhang. "The revolution of this technique has now made it possible for us to capture these very large, dynamic and transient complexes; something that would have been impossible with the traditional method of crystallography.”
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