£15.6 million granted for biology imaging facility

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A grant of £15.6 million has been given to the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire for a new imaging facility for biology. The centre will be situated next to the Diamond Light Source building when completed.

Funded by the Wellcome Trust, the Medical Research Council (MRC) and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the facility will house 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.

The new equipment will provide scientists working in the Harwell campus with the ability to look deep into biological cells to help further understand molecular structure and to create new tools to visualise single bio-molecules. 

While not being joined directly to the Diamond synchrotron light source, the centre will attach to one of Diamond’s Phase III beamlines, an X-ray nanoprobe which will stand outside the main ‘silver doughnut’ building.

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.’

This centre 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).

As cryo-electron microscopy is becoming increasingly specialised and expensive for university departments to build and operate, a centralised approach to such biological facilities is a way to optimise costs and usage. 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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