Diamond Light Source Opens New Laboratory
February 19, 2013

New Diamond Light Source Facility Will Shine A Light On Serious Viruses

Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

Diamond Light Source, the United Kingdom's national synchrotron facility, will be helping scientists shine a little more light on serious viruses, such as those responsible for AIDS, with its new laboratory, Crystal.

The new laboratory uses intense X-rays to help reveal the molecular and atomic structure of objects and materials, helping scientists to see the inner workings of pathogens and infections.

"Crystal provides unique facilities in Europe for the study of serious viruses. Nowhere in the world can structures be so readily solved with the speed and efficiency that is now available at Diamond," said Professor Dave Stuart, Life Sciences Director at Diamond Light Source and Professor of Structural Biology at Oxford University. "As such, we anticipate interest from a number of groups in the UK, including the Particle Imaging Centre in Oxford, which provides a suite of contained laboratories including a crystallization laboratory, to support the preparation of sample prior to study at Diamond."

In 2012, Diamond helped scientists determine the structure of a virus that causes hand-foot-and-mouth disease, which saw about 1.7 million cases reported in 2010. The facility has also been used to solve the structure of the Human Enterovirus 71, which is the root cause of the disease.

Researchers used synchrotron light to visualize the virus in different states and collect a series of structures. With this, they were able to uncover a detailed picture of the virus' actions in sequence, rather than being a ridged object.

"Together with our Chinese colleagues, we have now uncovered the structure of EV71 and identified the process by which the virus spreads throughout cells in the human body," Stuart said. "These findings can now be used to develop new treatments for hand-foot-and-mouth; and also directly translated to other viruses of the same family, including polio and some forms of the common cold."

Crystal has enabled researchers to visualize viruses in their entirety, and at incredible scales. Its brilliant X-ray beams allow scientists to study crystalized virus particles, and produce a 3D image of the virus structure.

Scientists will be able to perform target research into vaccines and anti-viral drugs by identifying the virus structure in greater detail.

"Crystal is a major advance, not just for the UK, but for Europe at large. Given the groundwork that has been performed at Diamond so far on viruses like the hand-foot-and-mouth, we are introducing a step change in research capabilities, so that more complex studies can be undertaken in a swift and effective way," said Dr Katherine McAuley, science leader for the facility. "The unique capabilities that the facility offers are expected to draw scientists from around the world, and establish the nation's synchrotron as a hub of world-leading research into disease prevention."

Over 3,000 academic and industrial researchers use Diamond Light Source for fields such as structural biology, health and medicine.

Back in 2011, scientists used Diamond Light Source to understand a key mechanism that causes the deadly tropical disease melioidosis. This disease is one of the top three causes of death by infectious disease in parts of South East Asia. The team used X-rays at the UK facility to solve the structure of a protein from Burkholderia, the function of which was initially unknown.