New type of molecular knot discovered

Scientists have developed a way of braiding three molecular strands enabling tighter and more complex knots to be made than has previously been possible. 

The paper, published in Nature Chemistry reports the synthesis of a new type of molecular knot, called an endless knot (or 7-4 knot). This type of knot cannot be made from helices – simply twisting strands together and joining the ends – a technique used to make complex molecular knots before.

A team, from the University of Manchester, employed a 3×3 interwoven molecular grid as an intermediate and key structure – they solved this key structure using single-crystal X-ray diffraction techniques on Diamond’s I19 beamline. The bright synchrotron light on I19 was fundamental to the discovery as without it there would not be proof that the knot strands were woven in the correct way.

Read more on the Diamond website

Image: A new type of molecular knot, called an endless knot (or 7-4 knot).

Credit: David Leigh, University of Manchester.

Cooking pollution more resilient than previously thought

Following research undertaken at Diamond, particulate emissions from cooking have been discovered to stay in the atmosphere for longer than initially thought, causing a prolonged contribution to poor air quality and human health.

A new study, led by researchers at the University of Birmingham, demonstrated how cooking emissions can survive in the atmosphere over several days, rather than being broken up and dispersed.

The team collaborated with Diamond, the University of Bath and the Central Laser Facility to show how these fatty acid molecules react with molecules found naturally in the earth’s atmosphere. During the reaction process, a coating is formed around the outside of the particle that protects the fatty acid inside from gases such as ozone which would otherwise break up the particles.

This research was made possible by using Diamond’s powerful X-ray beamline (I22). For the first time researchers we able to recreate the reaction process in a way that enables it to be studied in laboratory conditions.

Read more on the Diamond website

Effective new target for breast cancer treatment

An international study led by scientists at the University of Sussex has provided strong evidence for an effective new target for breast cancer treatment. The five-year study, called “The structure-function relationship of oncogenic LMTK3” published in Science Advances, involved researchers from seven institutions across three countries including Diamond. 

The study suggests that LMTK3 inhibitors could be effectively used for the treatment of breast cancer, and potentially other types of cancer. The structure of oncogenic LMTK3 (Lemur Tyrosine Kinase 3 ) determines its role and functions allowing drug inhibition as a new therapeutic strategy.

It is hoped the research will allow the further development and optimisation of LMTK3 inhibitors as a new type of orally-administered anticancer drug for patients and have potential value not only for breast cancer patients but also for lung, stomach, thyroid and bladder cancer patients.

Read more on the Diamond Light Source website

Image: Crystal structure of LMTK3
Credit: University of Sussex

Hybrid photoactive perovskites imaged with atomic resolution for the first-time

A huge step towards better performing solar cells – a collaboration identified information previously invisible using Diamond’s ePSIC microscopes of Oxford University’s Departments of Materials and Physics

A new technique has been developed allowing reliable atomic-resolution images to be taken, for the first time, of hybrid photoactive perovskite thin films.- highly favourable materials for efficient photovoltaic and optoelectronic applications. These images have significant implications for improving the performance of solar cell materials and have unlocked the next level of ability to understand these technologically important materials. The breakthrough was achieved by a joint team from the University of Oxford and Diamond who have just released a new paper published in Science.

Using the ePSIC (the Electron Physical Science Imaging Centre) E02 microscope and the ARM200 microscope in at the Department of Materials, University of Oxford, the team developed a new technique which allowed them to image the hybrid photoactive perovskites thin films with atomic resolution. This gave them unprecedented insights into their atomic makeup and provided them with information that is invisible to every other technique.

Read more on the Diamond website

Image: An example of one of the images obtained using the new protocol, which illustrates several of the phenomena that the team has been able to describe for the first time, including a range of grain boundaries, extended planar defects, stacking faults, and local inclusions of non-perovskite material.

Diamond helps uncover how an untreatable cancer-causing virus affects immune cells

Scientists have found that human T-cell lymphotropic virus, type 1 (HTLV-1) hijacks cellular machinery to establish an infection.  

Research was undertaken using cutting-edge visualisation techniques such as X-ray crystallography, which was undertaken at Diamond, and single-particle cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM).  

HTLV-1 is a virus that affects T cells, a type of white blood cell which plays a crucial role in our immune system. Currently, between five and 20 million people worldwide are infected by HTLV-1 and no cure or treatment is available. While most people infected with the virus do not experience symptoms, around two to five per cent will go on to develop adult T-cell leukaemia (ATL).  

New research, led by a team from Imperial College London and the Francis Crick Institute, shows in atomic detail how HTLV-1 infects immune cells. By providing a more nuanced understanding of how the virus establishes infection in the body, the research will help to support the development of new, targeted therapies. 

Read more on the Diamond Light Source website

Image: Scanning electron micrograph of a human T lymphocyte (also called a T cell) from the immune system of a healthy donor. Credit: NIAID

A new enzyme cocktail can digest plastic waste six times faster

Research undertaken at Diamond has allowed scientists to create a super-enzyme that degrades plastic bottles six times faster than before.

The super-enzyme, derived from bacteria that lives on a diet of plastic, enables the full recycling of plastic bottles. 

Plastic pollution is a global threat as plastics are rarely biodegradable and they can remain in the environment for centuries. One of the most abundant plastics that contributes hugely to this dire situation is poly(ethylene terephthalate) (PET). 
 
PET is used largely in textiles, where it is commonly referred to as polyester, but it is also used as packaging for liquids and foodstuffs. PET’s excellent water-repellent properties led to it being the plastic of choice for soft drink bottles. However, the water resistance of PET means that they are highly resistant to natural biodegradation and can take hundreds of years to break down in the environment. 

In 2018, researchers discovered that a unique bacterium (Ideonella sakaiensis 201-F6) was found feeding on waste from an industrial PET recycling facility. The bacterium had the amazing ability to degrade PET and use it to provide carbon for energy. Central to this ability was the production of a PET-digesting enzyme, known as PETase. 

Read more on the Diamond website

New discovery will have huge impact on the development of future battery cathodes

A new paper published today in Nature Energy reveals how a collaborative team of researchers have been able to fully identify the nature of oxidised oxygen in the important battery material – Li-rich NMC – using RIXS (Resonant Inelastic X-ray Scattering) at Diamond. This compound is being closely considered for implementation in next generation Li-ion batteries because it can deliver a higher energy density than the current state-of-the-art materials, which could translate to longer driving ranges for electric vehicles. They expect that their work will enable scientists to tackle issues like battery longevity and voltage fade with Li-rich materials.

The paper, ‘First cycle voltage hysteresis in Li-rich 3d cathodes associated with molecular O2 trapped in the bulk’ by a joint team from the University of Oxford, the Henry Royce and Faraday Institutions and Diamond, examines the results of their investigations to better understand the important compound known in the battery industry as Li-rich NMC (or Li1.2Ni0.13Co0.13Mn0.54O2).   

Principal Beamline Scientist on I21 RIXS at Diamond, Kejin Zhou,said:

Our work is much about understanding the mysterious first cycle voltage hysteresis in which the O-redox process cannot be fully recovered resulting in the loss of the voltage hence the energy density.

Read more on the Diamond website

Image: A previous study (Nature 577, 502–508 (2020)) into this process made by the same research team, at the I21 beamline at Diamond, reported that, in Na-ion battery cathodes, the voltage hysteresis is related to the formation of molecular O2 trapped inside of the particles due to the migration of transition metal ions during the charging process.

Ocean acidification risks deep-sea coral reef collapse

Diamond X-rays were used in a recent study that suggests climate change is triggering changes to the chemistry of deep-sea coral reefs which may cause their foundations to become brittle. 

Reefs are home to a multitude of aquatic life and the underlying structures of these reefs could fracture as a result of increasing ocean acidity caused by rising levels of carbon dioxide. 

Rising acidity 

Researchers measured the lowest and most acidic pH level ever recorded on living coral reefs hundreds of metres below the surface of the ocean in Southern California. The corals were then raised in the lab for one year under the same conditions. 

Scientists observed that the skeletons of dead corals, which support and hold up living corals, had become porous due to ocean acidification and rapidly become too fragile to bear the weight of the reef above them. The Diamond Manchester Imaging Branchline (I13-2) enabled the team to retrieve phase sensitive images that revealed gradients and de-mineralisation profiles in the coral samples. 

Read more on the Diamond website

Image: Lophelia pertusa skeleton with evidence of dissolution around the outside walls. Image: Sebastian Hennige

Bone breakages and hip fracture risk is linked to nanoscale bone inflexibility

Experiments carried out at Diamond using high energy intense beams of X-rays examined bone flexibility at the nanoscale. This allowed scientists to assess how collagen and minerals within bone flex and then break apart under load – in the nanostructure of hip bone samples.  

The report’s findings suggest that doctors should look not only at bone density, but also bone flexibility, when deciding how to prevent bone breakages. 

New research undertaken at Diamond’s Small Angle X-ray Scattering beamline (I22) has highlighted a gap in preventative treatment in patients prone to bone fractures.  The study, published in Scientific Reports and led by Imperial College London, found that flexibility as well as density in the bone nanostructure is an important factor in assessing how likely someone is to suffer fractures. 

Read more on the Diamond website

Image: Nanostructure: Collagen and mineral strain under load. Image: Shaocheng Ma, Imperial College London.

Diamond is set to help develop the first fully electric Bentley and contribute to sustainable luxury mobility

A three-year research project aims to deliver a break-through in e-axle electric powertrains. Led by Bentley Motors, the project will be delivered in partnership with Innovate UK and nine-partners, including Diamond.  

Diamond scientists will be working with Bentley Motors on a three-year research study that promises to transform electric vehicle powertrains.

The project will utilise a fully integrated, free from rare-earth magnet e-axle that supports electric vehicle architectures. This reinforces Bentley’s ambition to lead sustainable luxury mobility and introduce the first fully electric Bentley by 2026.

Diamond will be contributing to this ground-breaking project by performing imaging using the unique Joint Engineering, Environment and Processing (JEEP) beamline (I12). I12 will image the motor at full speed to measure the temperature changes using diffraction in the rotor and stator parts of the motor, as the performance is pushed the temperature in the motor increases.

Read more on the Diamond website

Image:  OCTOPUS e-axle  Image: Bentley Motors

World first for Synchrotron InfraRed Photo-Thermal in Life NanoSciences

Measuring drug-induced molecular changes within a cell at sub-wavelength scale

Synchrotron InfraRed Nanospectroscopy has been used for the first time to measure biomolecular changes induced by a drug (amiodarone) within human cells (macrophages) and localized at 100 nanometre scale, i.e. two orders of magnitude smaller than the IR wavelength used as probe. This was achieved at the Multimode InfraRed Imaging and Micro Spectroscopy (MIRIAM) beamline (B22) at Diamond Light Source, the UK’s national synchrotron facility.

This is a major scientific result in Life Sciences shared by an international team made up of researchers from the School of Cancer and Pharmaceutical Science at Kings College London, the Department of Pharmaceutical Technology and Bio-pharmacy at University of Vienna, and the scientists of the MIRIAM B22 beamline at Diamond.

Read more on the Diamond website

Image: Schematic of Synchrotron photo-thermal IR nano-spectroscopy on mammalian cell at beamline B22.

A polymer coating makes Metal Organic Frameworks better at delivering drugs

Researchers use Synchrotron InfraRed microspectroscopy to study the dynamics of drug release from MOFs

How to efficiently deliver targeted, controlled and time-released doses of drugs is a significant challenge for biomedicine. Finding solutions to this challenge would result in substantial benefits for patients, including more effective drug therapy and fewer undesirable side effects. The porous nature of metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) makes them attractive candidates for drug-delivery systems as they can be tailored to hold and transport a variety of encapsulated guest molecules. To this end, employing MOFs as a drug delivery vehicle could offer potential solutions to accomplish the targeted and controlled release of anti-cancer drugs. However, understanding the precise chemical and physical transformations that MOFs undergo as these guest molecules are released is challenging. In work recently published in ACS Applied Materials & Interfacesresearchers from the University of Oxford, University of Turin, and Diamond Light Source used a combination of experimental and theoretical techniques to address this problem. They show how the combination of hydrophilic MOF-encapsulated drug with a hydrophobic polymeric matrix is a highly promising strategy to tune the drug release rate for optimal delivery. Their results demonstrate that high-resolution synchrotron InfraRed microspectroscopy is a powerful in situ technique for tracking the local chemical and physical transformations, revealing the dynamics underpinning the controlled release of drug molecules bound to the MOF pores.  

Read more on Diamond Light Source website

Image: Using synchrotron infrared radiation to track the drug release process from MOF/Polymer composites.

Clay haloes preserve ancient fossils: an Infrared view

A UK-US collaboration has shed light on the preservation of ancient microfossils. As outlined in Interface Focus, the presence of kaolinite haloes surrounding the tiny fossils is believed to have kept destructive bacteria at bay, stopping decay. The small molecular differences of the clay around the fossils called for the Synchrotron IR microbeam.

Fossils that are over 500 million years old are extremely rare because early organisms were microscopic, only the thickness of a hair, and lacked hard parts that can resist decay. To understand how these early organisms could be preserved, IR microspectroscopy was performed using the Multimode InfraRed Imaging and Microspectroscopy (MIRIAM) beamline at Diamond Light Source. IR microanalysis allowed researchers to identify at the micron scale the minerals surrounding 800–1,000 million-year-old microfossils, and it was determined that an aluminium-rich clay known as kaolinite was responsible for their preservation. Kaolinite was previously shown to be toxic to bacteria, so its presence prevented the early organisms from being destroyed.

These observations suggest that the early fossil record might be biased to regions that are rich in kaolinite, such as the tropics. Moreover, the lack of animal fossils in these samples, despite having favourable fossilisation conditions demonstrates that animals were yet to evolve 800 million years ago.

Read more on the Diamond Light Source website

Image: Light microscopy images (left) indicating the position of the microfossils (red boxes) and Synchrotron-based IR maps (right) showing the compositional variation of the clay around the fossil (as ratio of 3694 cm^-1 band vs the M-OH region). 

Credit: Data taken at MIRIAM beamline B22 at Diamond.

Using state-of-the-art nanocarriers to beat bacterial resistance

Novel stabiliser-free cubosomes can transport antimicrobial peptides and promote wound healing

In 2018, in England alone, there were an estimated 61,000 antibiotic resistant infections – a 9% rise on the previous year. Infections that don’t respond to antibiotics have the potential to cause bloodstream infections and may require patients to be admitted to hospital. The numbers of antibiotic-resistant bloodstream infections rose by a third between 2014 and 2018. The rise in antibiotic-resistant bacteria is a growing concern worldwide, prompting a search for new antibiotics and alternative strategies for fighting bacteria. One promising approach is the design of lipid-based antimicrobial nanocarriers. However, most of the polymer-stabilised nanocarriers are cytotoxic. In work recently published in  Advanced Functional Materials,  a team of Swiss researchers designed a novel, stabiliser-free nanocarrier for the antimicrobial peptide LL-37 that also promotes wound healing. They demonstrated that stabiliser-free cubosomes show promise as advanced cytocompatible nanovehicles for nutrient and drug delivery. 

Vertebrates have two main immune strategies. In simple terms, the adaptive (or acquired) immune system responds to specific pathogens by producing antibodies. The innate immune system is older (in evolutionary terms) and is found in all kinds of life, from plants and fungi to insects and multicellular organisms. The innate immune system makes use of less specific defence mechanisms, including physical barriers (such as skin or bark), clotting factors in blood or sap, and specialised cells that attack foreign substances. 

Read more on the Diamond Light Source website

Image : Graphical representation of a cubosome. The coloured surface resembles the lipid-water interface with the confined water channels. The channel diameter is typically in the range of 10 nanometres, with the overall size of the cubosomes being several hundred nanometres.

The benefits of Open Data with ExPaNDS

Diamond is a key collaborator in this European project, which will be mapping the data behind the thousands of published scientific papers

ExPaNDS, alongside the Photon and Neutron Open Science Cloud (PaNOSC) are European H2020 projects who are working towards the development of the European Open Science Cloud (EOSC).

The Photon and Neutron Research Infrastructures (PaN RIs) containing free electron laser, synchrotron light and neutron sources are generating petabytes of research data each year and such vast amounts of data can be hard to share. Researchers around the globe use the data to advance knowledge across a variety of societal challenges. These challenges can be found in energy, transport, healthcare, food safety, and sustainable living to list only a few.

Discovery of a novel magnetic skyrmion surface state

Skyrmions get perpendicular – and push the door open for high density data storage

Scientists from ShanghaiTech University, Diamond Light Source, the SOLEIL synchrotron and University of Oxford report in a recent issue of Nano Letters on their discovery of a novel skyrmion surface state that exists in applied in-plane fields – much different from the usual out-of-plane geometry. In this geometry, magnetic signals from the skyrmion lattice phase settle down in inconvenient reciprocal space locations, making resonant elastic X-ray scattering (REXS) on the chiral magnet Cu2OSeO3 a challenging job to carry out. By combining the complementary capabilities of the soft X-ray diffractometers at two synchrotrons (Diamond and SOLEIL) on the very same sample, the new state was unambiguously identified.

>Read more on the Diamond Light Source website

Image: Illustration of the conventional in-plane skyrmion state (a) and the novel perpendicular skyrmion state (b) in the non-centrosymmetric skyrmion system Cu2OSeO3. Whereas a conventional planar skyrmion takes up an area of A=d2 (d is the skyrmion diameter), a perpendicular skyrmion has a much reduced lateral footprint of A = w d (with w the width of the ridge) which is advantages for skyrmion memory applications. The REXS experiments were carried out in the RASOR diffractometer at beamline I10 in Diamond, and in RESOXS at the beamline SEXTANTS in Soleil (St. Aubin, France).