Understanding how a key antibody targets cancer cells

Immunotherapy can be used as a precise intervention in cancer treatments. Jean-Philippe Julien is a Canada Research Chair in Structural Immunology, a Senior Scientist in the Molecular Medicine Program at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids), and an Associate Professor in the Departments of Biochemistry and Immunology at the University of Toronto. Along with colleagues from the U.S., Spain and Canada, he used the Canadian Light Source at the University of Saskatchewan to study how a candidate antibody therapeutic interacts with a surface receptor on cancer cells, which provides important molecular insights for designing improved cancer therapies. He mentioned how the synchrotron is “incredibly important for researchers like myself” and how “we cannot do the research that we do without it.” The team used the CMCF beamline at the CLS and their findings were published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.Immunotherapy can be used as a precise intervention in cancer treatments. Jean-Philippe Julien is a Canada Research Chair in Structural Immunology, a Senior Scientist in the Molecular Medicine Program at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids), and an Associate Professor in the Departments of Biochemistry and Immunology at the University of Toronto. Along with colleagues from the U.S., Spain and Canada, he used the Canadian Light Source at the University of Saskatchewan to study how a candidate antibody therapeutic interacts with a surface receptor on cancer cells, which provides important molecular insights for designing improved cancer therapies. He mentioned how the synchrotron is “incredibly important for researchers like myself” and how “we cannot do the research that we do without it.” The team used the CMCF beamline at the CLS and their findings were published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

Learn more on the CLS website

Image: Jean-Philippe Julien

Credit: Canadian Light Source

Scientists tackle indoor air pollution

People on average spend nearly 90% of their time indoors and, especially in the cold winter months in Canada, this statistic can be even higher. With all that time spent indoors, filtering out pollutants from indoor air is very important for the health of Canadians.

Researchers from the College of Engineering at the University of Saskatchewan (USask) have been developing a catalyst for a new type of air purifying technique that would clean air at room temperature.

“Ozone is one of the strongest purifying agents that has been used in the water treatment industry for a long time. In our research, we use ozone and an effective catalyst to purify indoor air from Volatile Organic Compounds or VOCs,” explained PhD student Mehraneh Ghavami.

Ghavami and co-researcher Dr. Jafar Soltan used the HXMA beamline at the Canadian Light Source (CLS) at USask to discover which types of metal catalysts would work best for eliminating pollutants out of the air and recently published their findings.

Their air purifying system uses ozone gas and a catalyst to remove indoor air pollutants and turn them into carbon dioxide and water.

Read more on the Canadian Light Source website

Image: Mehraneh Ghavami using the CLS’ HXMA beamline

Credit: CLS

Using science to make the best chocolate yet

Scientists used synchrotron technology to show a key ingredient can create the ideal chocolate structure and could revolutionize the chocolate industry.

Structure is key when it comes creating the best quality of chocolate. An ideal internal structure will be smooth and continuous, not crumbly, and result in glossy, delicious, melt-in-your-mouth decadence. However, this sweet bliss is not easy to achieve.

Researchers from the University of Guelph had their first look at the detailed structure of dark chocolate using the Canadian Light Source (CLS) at the University of Saskatchewan. Their results were published today in Nature Communications.

“One of the major problems in chocolate making is tempering,” said Alejandro Marangoni, a professor at the University of Guelph and Canada Research Chair in Food, Health and Aging. “Very much like when you temper steel, you have to achieve a certain crystalline structure in the cocoa butter.”

Skilled chocolate makers use specialized tools and training to manipulate cocoa butter for gourmet chocolate. However, Marangoni wondered if adding a special ingredient to chocolate could drive the formation of the correct crystal structure without the complex cooling and mixing procedures typically used by chocolatiers during tempering.

Read more on the Canadian Light Source website

Image: Dr. Saeed Ghazani tempering chocolate. Dept. Food Science University of Guelph.

Developing antiviral drugs to treat COVID-19 infections

The rapid development of safe and effective vaccines has helped bring the pandemic under control. However, with the rise of variants and an uneven global distribution of vaccines, COVID-19 is a disease we will have to manage for some time.

Antiviral drugs that target the way the virus replicates may be the best option for treating outbreaks of COVID-19 in unvaccinated and under-vaccinated populations.

Using the Canadian Light Source (CLS) at the University of Saskatchewan, researchers from the University of Alberta (U of A) have isolated some promising inhibitors that could be used to treat COVID-19 infections. The scientists used the synchrotron remotely during the facility’s special COVID-19 call for proposals, an initiative created to support research to help fight the pandemic.

The team’s findings have been recently published in the European Journal of Medicinal Chemistry.

“With the help of the CLS, and the multiple teams here at the U of A, including the our lab and the Young lab in the Department of Biochemistry, Vederas lab in the Department of Chemistry, and Tyrrell team in Medical Microbiology and Immunology Department, we’ve been very efficient at developing a group of inhibitors that is very promising,” said Joanne Lemieux, a professor at the U of A.

Read more on the CLS website

Image: Michel Fodje, CLS Senior Scientist, using the CMCF beamline at the CLS, which was used for this project.

Credit: Canadian Light Source

Scientists break record while battling antibiotic resistance

Drug-resistant diseases could cause up to 10 million deaths a year by 2050, according to the World Health Organization. Scientists used the Canadian Light Source (CLS) at the University of Saskatchewan to better understand how current antibiotics work and how we might curb bacterial resistance to these life-saving drugs.

Many new antibiotics are able to kill infection-causing bacteria by binding to these bacteria’s ribosomes, which are the essential machines that make proteins. In order to see exactly what antibiotics do at an atomic level, researchers from McGill University used the CLS to determine the physical structure of a ribosome as it interacted with one of the newest antibiotics.

To understand how some bacteria are already resistant to this new antibiotic, they also determined how the drug interacts with a key bacterial enzyme that causes the resistance. The results were recently published in Nature Communications Biology.

Visualizing the antibiotic bound to the ribosome, which is a complex with 300,000 atoms, was a feat that took the team roughly five years to complete. In the process, the scientists broke the record for the largest structure ever analyzed using the CMCF beamline at the CLS, which is the only facility of its kind in Canada. The previous record, set in 2013, was for a structure six times smaller.

Read more on the CLS website

Image: Dr Albert Berghuis

Credit: Canadian Light Source

Wax proves key to protecting crops from drought and frost

A team of researchers used the Canadian Light Source (CLS) at the University of Saskatchewan (USask) to show that cuticular wax—a waxy layer that covers exterior surfaces of plants, much like human skin—provides a barrier against low temperatures and dehydration.

While numerous studies have established the role of cuticular wax in impacting drought resistance, few studies have examined its role in plant frost resistance and even fewer have examined both, said Dr. Karen Tanino with the College of Agriculture and Bioresource at USask. Her team’s findings were published recently in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences.

The ultimate goal of the research is to provide plant breeders with information that enables them to more efficiently select superior genetic lines and develop more climate-resistant crops, said Tanino.

Read more on the Canadian Light Source website

Image: The team studied a variety of Arabidopsis phenotypes during the project.

Towards a therapy for Parkinson’s disease

Over 100,000 Canadians are living with Parkinson’s disease and 25 more are diagnosed every day, according to Parkinson Canada.

Patients experience tremors, stiffness, and difficulty with movement. Dr. Jean-Francois Trempe, an Associate Professor with McGill University, and colleagues are using the Canadian Light Source (CLS) at the University of Saskatchewan to help search for potential drug targets for the disease.

“I work on a set of proteins that are involved in quality control,” said Trempe. “These proteins are able to sort the damaged proteins from the non-damaged proteins and they send the damaged ones off to be degraded and that’s important for the long-term survival of neurons.”

His team used bright synchrotron light at the CLS to gain insights into a protein involved in formation of flagella, which are important notably for fluid circulation in the brain. By finding new information about this protein, their team is contributing to a body of knowledge that will hopefully lead to a therapy down the road.

Read more and watch the video on the CLS website

Battling bad bugs

Scientists fight antibiotic resistance by using synchrotron to study scab disease in potatoes.

In the ongoing war against antibiotic resistant bacteria, a change in battle tactics may prove effective for controlling a common disease of plants and potentially other toxins that affect humans and animals.

Although bacterial toxins cause serious, often deadly diseases, “bacteria aren’t trying to be nasty,” said Dr. Rod Merrill, Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology at the University of Guelph. “They’re hungry and looking for food, and we’re often the food.” He added that 99 per cent of bacteria are helpful – like gut flora – so the battle is against the remaining one per cent.

The usual approach is to develop antibiotics “that kill the bacteria but not us, or the plant, or the animal,” stated Merrill. However, bacteria mutate quickly, as quickly as every 30 minutes, which leads to antibiotic resistance. “And unfortunately, the pipeline for new antibiotics is empty.”

The approach that Merrill and his research group are pursuing is an anti-virulence strategy – finding or designing small molecules that inhibit the tools bacteria use to colonize the host and create infection. “If we can put a lock on their weapons, they can’t get food and will move on so there’s not the same pressure to mutate. We’re going with this approach because we think it’s time to change up tactics.”

Read more on the CLS website

Image: Scabin crystals

Credit: CLS

Surviving the deep freeze

Key proteins protect wildlife when the temperature drops

It is hard to imagine what some fish, carrots and tiny snow fleas might have in common, but it turns out it is something key to their survival when the temperature drops below freezing.

The common trait, also shared by insects, bacteria and other microorganisms, is antifreeze proteins (AFP). As the name suggests, AFPs work “to prevent organisms from freezing or to help them survive in a frozen state,” explained Dr. Peter Davies, a professor at Queen’s University and Canada Research Chair in Protein Engineering.

Davies has been studying these unique proteins for about 40 years. His latest research, aided by X-ray diffraction techniques at the Canadian Light Source (CLS) at the University of Saskatchewan was recently published in The FEBS Journal. This study continues to build knowledge about AFP structures, their function and evolution.

Read more on the CLS website

Image: A snow flea (Granisotoma rainieri) that was collected in Japan by coauthor Dr Sakae Tsuda

Credit: Canadian Light Source (CLS)

Dublin researchers study phosphorus cycling and water quality

Using the Canadian Light Source at the University of Saskatchewan, Trinity College Dublin researchers have studied long term phosphorus storage and release in environmental systems, information which can help guide water quality management.

Phosphorus applied to agricultural crops is stored in various mineral and organic forms. This accumulated phosphorus is termed “legacy phosphorus” and can take decades to eventually mineralize and leach back into aquatic systems in a form living things can use.

“Phosphorus in lake and river systems is being recycled back into the water column degrading water quality through weed and algal growth cycles which can initially be exacerbated if phosphate inputs are stopped or significantly reduced” said Dr. David O’Connell, Assistant Professor of Contaminant Hydrology and Hydrogeology at Trinity College Dublin.

He recently published two papers with international collaborators that explore legacy phosphorus in river and lake systems, elucidating the processes and mechanisms through which phosphorus is stored and released in these systems over the long term.

Read more on the CLS website

Image: Flow measurements at the Bunuoke catchment.

Credit: Dr. David O’Connell

Realizing the limitless possibilities of wearable electronics

Benoît Lessard and his team are developing carbon-based technologies which could lead to improved flexible phone displays, make robotic skin more sensitive and allow for wearable electronics that could monitor the physical health of athletes in real-time.

With the help of the Canadian Light Source (CLS) at the University of Saskatchewan (USask), a team of Canadian and international scientists have evaluated how thin film structure correlates to organic thin-film transistors performance.

Organic electronics use carbon-based molecules to create more flexible and efficient devices. The display of our smart phones is based on organic-LED technology, which uses organic molecules to emit bright light and others to respond to touch.

Lessard, the corresponding author of a recent paper published in ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces, is excited about the data his team has collected at the HXMA beamline. As Canada Research Chair in Advanced Polymer Materials and Organic Electronics and Associate Professor at the University of Ottawa in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, Lessard is working on furthering the technology behind organic thin-film transistors. To improve on this technology the team is engineering the design and processing of phthalocyanines, molecules used traditionally as dyes and pigments.

Read more on the CLS website

Image: Benoît Lessard in the lab

Credit: Benoît Lessard

A better understanding of arterial calcification

McGill researchers are one step closer to understanding the origins of arterial calcification, a process that contributes to heart disease.

Minerals form naturally in our bones and teeth, but when minerals like calcium phosphate attach to the soft tissues of our vascular system, they can turn the once flexible arteries into stiff vessels that restrict blood flow––increasing the chance of heart attacks or strokes.

Understanding how and why minerals form in soft tissue is crucial for the health of at-risk Canadians, those living with diabetes and chronic kidney disease, as well as seniors.

Data collected on the SXRMB beamline at the Canadian Light Source (CLS) at the University of Saskatchewan has helped further the understanding about where these calcium deposits start.

Read more on the CLS website

Image: Marta Cerruti (left) and Ophelie Gourgas in a laboratory using a Raman machine.

Credit: Canadian Light Source

Preparing for the next generation of batteries

In the ongoing quest to build a better battery, researchers used the Canadian Light Source (CLS) at the University of Saskatchewan to identify the potential of using polymer composites as electrode matrices to increase the capacity of rechargeable lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries.

“The composition of the adhesive and conductive framework for batteries hasn’t changed in years,” said Dr. Christian Kuss, assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Manitoba and one of three researchers on the project. “But, we’re reaching the limit of how much capacity Li-Ion batteries have so this work is essentially preparing for the next generation of batteries.”

Over many cycles of charging and discharging, battery materials begin to break down, he explained. “The goal is to find new matrix materials that allow the electrode to stay intact over longer periods of time and thereby increase capacity.”

The new matrix material Kuss and his colleagues studied was based on a mixture of two polymers – one adhesive and the other conductive. The adhesive polymer is cellulose based, he said, while the conductive one “is easily synthesized and fairly cheap.” Cost is an important consideration “because you ultimately want a battery that is comparable in terms of pricing to what’s already available.”

At the CLS, the researchers used the Spectromicroscopy beamline to study the chemical structure of the polymer mixture. “With this technique, we could see the mixture and see how the polymers were distributed at a microscale.”

Read more on the CLS website

Image: Battery cyclers for running and testing batteries.

Shedding light on the causes of arsenic contamination

An international team has used the Canadian Light Source at the University of Saskatchewan to uncover the elusive structure of two arsenic-containing compounds, information that can be used to prevent and predict arsenic contamination.

Arsenic occurs naturally in the environment, and it is present in ore deposits and the waste left behind by mining for gold, uranium, and other metals. The concern with arsenic-containing compounds, like yukonite and arseniosiderite, is that soil sources can find their way into waterways. Understanding how this happens on a structural level can help scientists — and industry — better understand how the two are formed and better protect the surrounding environment from potential arsenic contamination.

Discovered more than 100 years ago, yukonite and arseniosiderite, which are compounds of arsenic, calcium, iron and oxygen, have concealed their structure from scientists thanks to their low crystallinity. While it’s relatively easy to determine the structure of materials that have a high degree of crystallinity, because of the complexity in the way these minerals’ atoms are arranged, usual methods have come up short in painting a clear picture of their structure.

Using a special technique at the CLS called the pair distribution function (PDF), an international team of researchers from Canada, China, the USA, Italy, and Ireland was able to visualize for the first time how atoms are structured in samples of arseniosiderite, which is classified as semi-crystalline, and yukonite, which is considered a nano-crystalline mineral.

Read more on the CLS website

 Image: Specimen BM.62813 from the collections of the Natural History Museum, London 

Credit: © The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London

Towards better LED lighting

Designing energy efficient, high output, perfectly tinted LEDs

SASKATOON – Scientists have combined experimental data gathered at the Canadian Light Source at the University of Saskatchewan and theoretical data to build deep insight into two types of light emitting crystals for next-generation LEDs.

“When we have means of creating more efficient lighting, this has a huge environmental impact,” says Alexander Moewes, Canada Research Chair in Materials Science with Synchrotron Radiation at the University of Saskatchewan, who cites that lighting accounts for 15-20% of global electricity consumption, and therefore for roughly 5% of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions.

Read more on the CLS website

Image: Tristan de Boer,  Patrick Braun, Ruhul Amin, Alexander Moewes and Amir Qamar outside the Physics building at USask

Turning straw into gold?

A more profitable and eco-friendly method for turning biomass into biochemicals and green hydrogen

Many have dreamed of being able to turn straw into gold like the fabled Rumpelstiltskin. While this may not be possible in the literal sense, scientists are using sunlight to turn straw into something more valuable.

With the aid of technology from the Canadian Light Source (CLS) at the University of Saskatchewan, Canadian researchers have made important advances to use the power of the sun to convert biomass like wheat straw into hydrogen fuel and value-added biochemicals. This method is more efficient, eco-friendly and lucrative.

Producing energy from biomass, or plant material, has been studied for more than four decades, said Dr. Jinguang Hu, assistant professor at the University of Calgary (UCalgary). The two most common processes are thermo-chemical and biological, but these are still carbon intensive and are not economically feasible.

Read more on the CLS website

Image: The UCalgary team is observing a photo-reactor that is being used for a photoreforming reaction with wheat straw. Left to right: Prof. Md Golam Kibria, Dr. Adnan Khan (Research Associate), Dr. Heng Zhao (Post doctoral fellow), Prof. Jinguang Hu.

Credit: Prof. Hu and Kibria group.