Cutting-edge electron microscope revealed at opening of new £5m structural biology centre

The University of Glasgow has today opened an innovative new structural biology centre, home to a cutting-edge electron microscope – the first of its kind in Scotland – which will be used to image biological molecules at the atomic level.

The technology will be used to support vital research into diseases posing the greatest threat to human and animal health, providing greater capabilities in areas such as vaccine development, cancer research, and drug design and discovery.

The new £5m Scottish Centre for Macromolecular Imaging (SCMI) is part of the Medical Research Council-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research (CVR) and is the result of collaboration between researchers from Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee and St Andrews.

The SCMI was opened by Richard Henderson FRS, Nobel Laureate 2017 for Chemistry, and attended by world-leading investigators and keynote speakers from around the globe.

Dr David Bhella discusses the SCMI

Investment for the centre was awarded through the Medical Research Council (MRC) to boost structural and cell biology research, and is part of an £11.3m government funding boost by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

The modern Industrial Strategy sets out a long term plan to boost the productivity and earning power of people throughout the UK, helping businesses create better, higher-paying jobs in every part of the UK with investment in skills, industries and infrastructure.

Structural biology involves determining the 3D architecture of proteins and other biological components in order to provide crucial insights into important processes in health and disease.

The opening of the SCMI is centred around a two-day symposium exploring the technology of cryogenic electron microscopy (CryoEM), which allows scientists to study and visualise the biological processes on the cellular and molecular scale.  SCMI

Additional support for the SCMI came from the Scottish Funding Council, Scottish Universities Life Sciences Alliance (SULSA) and the Beatson Institute for Cancer Research. A further charitable donation has been made by the M J M Smith Trust for the supply of essential computer equipment.

Dr David Bhella, Director of the SCMI, said: “Cryogenic transmission electron microscopy (cryoEM) is revolutionising the field of structural biology. The Scottish Centre for Macromolecular Imaging is a tremendous opportunity not only for the CVR, but also for life sciences in Scotland.

“Our new facility will place the CVR and the University of Glasgow right at the centre of vital structural biology research by offering a world-class capability. The new technology will help us investigate key processes in infection and cancer biology.”

Dr Richard Henderson, from the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, said “CryoEM, after many years of technical improvements, has now become an immensely powerful method for determining the structures of biological molecules and molecular assemblies that have resisted many other approaches.  The new Scottish Centre for Macromolecular Imaging provides a local capability for world-class structural biology on viruses, immune complexes and other macromolecular assemblies.”

Dr Declan Mulkeen, Chief of Strategy at the MRC, said: “We are delighted to be able to provide this timely investment in a new cryo-EM facility at the MRC University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research. This is part of a wider programme of investment at the Universities of Leicester, Oxford and Glasgow.

“These new Cryo-EM facilities will help tackle important biological questions at new scales and provide crucial insights in to structure based drug design, helping to advance human health.”

Professor Dame Anna Dominiczak, Vice Principal and Head of the College of Medical, Veterinary and Life Sciences at the University of Glasgow, said: “The Scottish Centre for Macromolecular Imaging will be a world-changing new addition to the facilities we have at the CVR, and I am delighted that Glasgow will lead on this work.

“This is an important opening for the University, and also for the whole of Life Sciences in Scotland.”

Secretary of State for Scotland, David Mundell, said: “The opening of the new Scottish Centre for Macromolecular Imaging at the University of Glasgow will build on Scotland’s worldwide reputation as an innovator in science and technology.

“Bringing cutting-edge equipment like the electron microscope, the first of its kind in Scotland, to Glasgow will help cement the city’s place at the centre of life science research.”

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First published: 11 September 2018