Garnet gemstones contain secrets of our seismic past

Somewhere in the world an earthquake is occurring. In general, it will be a small tremor, an earthquake of magnitude two or lower, which humans cannot even feel. However when a major earthquake occurs, of magnitude 7 or above, it can cause devastating damage, events like tsunamis, and loss of life. These type of quakes, like the 2011 event in Japan and 2015 Nepalese events, happen around 20 times each year worldwide.

Large earthquakes tend to occur in subduction zones, such as the so-called Ring of Fire, where tectonic plates meet and one is bent and forced underneath the other, into the mantle of the earth. As well as leading to earthquakes, subduction also causes the composition and structure of the rock itself to become altered, in a process called high-pressure/low temperature metamorphism.

Metamorphism can take a variety of forms, in a number of different rocks, but one that is of particular interest is a type called rhythmic major-element zoning, in the mineral garnet. If found it can be a sign that subduction has occurred, and it can act as a record of seismicity in the crust of our Earth.

>Read more on the Diamond Light Source website

Solution to plastic pollution on the horizon

Engineering a unique plastic-degrading enzyme

The inner workings of a recently discovered bacterium with a fascinating ability to use plastic as an energy source have been recently revealed in PNAS. The world’s unique Long-Wavelength Macromolecular Crystallography (MX) beamline here at Diamond Light Source was used to successfully solve the structure of the bacterial enzyme responsible for chopping up the plastic. This newly evolved enzyme could be the key to tackling the worldwide problem of plastic waste.

Plastic pollution is a global threat that desperately needs addressing. 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. In fact, PET’s excellent water-repellent properties led to it being the plastic of choice for soft drink bottles. However, once plastic bottles are discarded in the environment the water resistance of PET means that they are highly resistant to natural biodegradation. PET bottles can linger for hundreds of years and plastic waste like this will accumulate over time unless a solution is found to degrade them.

A recent breakthrough came in the discovery of a unique bacterium, Ideonella sakaiensis 201-F6, which was found feeding on waste from an industrial PET recycling facility. PET has only been widely used since the 1970s, so the bacterium had evolved at breakneck speed to be able to take advantage of the new food source.

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 Light Source website


Shedding new light on laser additive manufacturing

Additive manufacturing (AM, also known as 3D printing) allows us to create incredibly complex shapes, which would not be possible using traditional manufacturing techniques. However, objects created using AM have different properties from traditional manufacturing routes, which is sometimes a disadvantage.

Laser additive manufacturing (LAM) uses a laser to fuse together metallic, ceramic or other powders into complex 3D shapes, layer by layer. The cooling rates are extremely rapid, and since they are unlike conventional processes we don’t know the optimal conditions to obtain the best properties, delaying the uptake of LAM in the production of safety-critical engineering structures, such as turbine blades, energy storage and biomedical devices. We need a method to see inside the process of LAM to better understand and optimise the laser-matter interaction and powder consolidation mechanisms.

Based in the Research Complex at Harwell, a team of researchers have worked with scientists at I12, the Joint Engineering Environment Processing (JEEP) beamline and the Central Laser Facility to build a laser additive manufacturing machine which operates on a beamline, allowing you to see into the heart of the process, revealing the underlying physical phenomena during LAM.

>Read more on the Diamond Light Source website

Picture: The Additive Manufacturing Team from the Research Complex at Harwell on the Joint Engineering Environment Processing (JEEP, I12) beamline. The Laser Additive Manufacturing Process Replicator (or LAMPR) on the right is used to reveal the underlying physical phenomena during LAM.

New Diamond SESAME Rutherford training programme underway

First four fellows welcomed to new training programme

Diamond has welcomed the first four fellows on the newly created Diamond SESAME Rutherford Fellowship Training Programme. The result of a £1.5 million grant from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), Diamond will use the funding to expand its training and development support of SESAME, a unique Middle East project.

Up to 25 delegates will benefit from training in areas of science and engineering associated with the construction and operation of SESAME (Synchrotron light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East) in Jordan. The Middle East’s first major international research centre, the SESAME light source involves members from Cyprus, Egypt, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Israel, Jordan, Pakistan, the Palestinian Authority and Turkey.

Andrew Harrison, CEO of Diamond, explains, “SESAME represents a unique project for the Middle East region because of the excellent opportunity to stimulate and support scientific and technical activity, training and engagement in the region.  Because SESAME focuses on areas of local importance – such as water supply, energy, health and the environment – we are keen to nurture new talent and share our skills. This significant grant will enable us to build stronger links.”

>Read more on the Diamond Light Source website

Image: Fellows, Mentors and Programme Support
Credit: Diamond Light Source

Inscuteable: No longer inscrutable

The structure and function of a controller of stem cell division

An important complex forming the core of the cell division apparatus in stem cells has been imaged using the Macromolecular Crystallography beamlines, I04 and I04-1 at Diamond Light Source. As recently reported in Nature Communications, the spindle orientation protein known as LGN bound to an adapter protein known as Inscuteable in a tetrameric arrangement, which drove asymmetric stem cell division.

Stem cells are undifferentiated cells that have the capacity to differentiate into specialised cells. In a developing embryo, stem cells are the foundation of all other cells, whereas in adults, they can aid repair by replenishing lost tissue. To ensure a physiological balance between differentiated and undifferentiated cells, stem cells undergo asymmetric division to give rise to an identical daughter stem cell and a differentiated cell.

Asymmetric division occurs when there is an unequal segregation of cellular contents. For this to occur, the line of division of the cell (known as the axis) must be carefully positioned. The stem cells use polarity proteins, such as Par3, to determine the location of this axis, and then proteins such as LGN and Inscuteable (Insc) help to align the mitotic spindle to the axis of polarity.

Despite the importance of such a process, little is known about the interactions between the proteins. Dr Marina Mapelli, Group Leader at the European Institute of Oncology in Milan and Dr Simone Culurgioni, Post-Doctoral Research Associate here at Diamond, along with scientists from the Italian Institute of Technology, plus the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Grenoble set out to solve the crystal structure of LGN bound to Insc. They saw that the proteins were intertwined in a fascinating tetrameric arrangement and found that Insc alone had impressive anti-proliferative properties.

>Read more on the Diamond Light Source website

Figure : On the left, a stem cell orienting (movement highlighted by the red arrow) its mitotic spindle (in green) in order to partition its cellular components (in pink and yellow) unequally in the two daughter cells; one is retaining the stem state (in pink) and the other one is committed to differentiate (in yellow). On the right, the structure of Insc:LGN complex governing this asymmetric cell division process. Insc:LGN complex assembles in highly stable intertwinned tetrameric structure (Insc in blue and purple, LGN in yellow and orange respectively
Entire image here.

X-ray Focus

With a simple lens the Sun’s rays can be focused to a spot strong enough to burn paper.

Focusing visible light is one thing but can you focus X-rays in the same way?

This may seem impossible as X-rays are highly penetrating and they would travel straight through glass without any effect.

However by making several alterations it becomes possible: change the glass lens to one made of beryllium, reduce the diameter of the lens, increase the curvature and make it concave rather than convex then you can begin to see a slight focussing effect. Now stack 100 or more of these beryllium lenses together and you have constructed a device that focusses X-rays.

Throughout an experiment it is often necessary to change the strength of the lens assembly. This can easily be done by adjusting the number of lenses in the assembly. Moreover, it needs to be executed via remote control while ensuring that all the lenses are precisely aligned so that a focussed spot is obtained and finally the assembly must be within a vacuum chamber.

>Read more and watch the videos on the Diamond Light Source website

Figure: First image of the video showing X-ray beam (red) being focussed to different distances by the F-switch depending on the location of the sample under investigation.
Credit: Diamond Light Source

Investigation of metal deposition in organs after joint replacement

Synchrotron analysis shows potentially harmful metals from implants can find their way into human organs.

The hip replacement is considered to be one of the most successful orthopaedic interventions, with 75,000 performed each year by the NHS alone. However, the implants used to replace hips contain metals, such as chromium and cobalt, which are potentially toxic and which can be deposited into tissues around the implant site due to wear and corrosion. A team of researchers used X-ray absorption spectroscopy (XAS) on the I18 beamline to show that these metals can also find their way into organ tissues. Their results suggest that chronic diseases, such as diabetes, may create conditions in which mildly toxic trivalent chromium (CrIII) particles from replacement joints are reoxidised within the body to form carcinogenic hexavalent chromium (CrVI). Their results have been published in the Journal of Trace Elements in Medicine and Biology.

>Read more on the Diamond Light Source website

Image: Overview of the study (entire figure to see here).

Antiferromagnets as a new kind of information storage technology

Magnetic materials have been used for storing information for more than half a century, from the first magnetic tapes to modern data servers. These technologies have in common the usage of ferromagnets, producing magnetic fields which are easily measurable. Researchers at the University of Nottingham are working with Diamond Light Source to develop new technologies based on a different class of magnetic material: an antiferromagnet, which does not produce a magnetic field, but which has a hidden magnetic order that can be used to store the ones and zeros of information.

Looking at the atomic scale, each atom is like a small magnetic compass, having a small magnetic moment. In a ferromagnet, once the information is written, all those atomic moments remain oriented in the same direction. In antiferromagnets, each magnetic moment aligns exactly opposite to its neighbours, effectively cancelling them out (Figure 1). This arrangement has some important advantages for memory applications: magnetic bits do not interact with each other, so can be packed more closely; they do not interact with external magnetic fields; their resonant frequencies, which determine the speed that information can be written, is typically 1000 times larger than in ferromagnets. Antiferromagnets can therefore be useful, but how would you store and read information in a material whose total magnetic moment is always zero? Dr Peter Wadley, a researcher at the University of Nottingham, and Sonka Reimers, a joint Nottingham and Diamond PhD student, are trying to answer that question in their search for new technologies for information storage and processing.

>Read more on the Diamond Light Source website

Figure: Schematic of magnetic moment orientation for binary information storage using (left) a ferromagnet. Full image here.

Determining the impact of post-conservation corrosion

When King Henry VIII’s flagship, the Mary Rose, sank off Portsmouth in 1545, it took with it 1248 iron cannonballs. Since the excavation of the shipwreck (from 1979-1983), the cannonballs have been conserved in different ways, offering a unique opportunity to study different conservation methods.

Humans have been using iron to make weapons, tools and ceremonial items for more than 20,000 years, but once these objects have been excavated they are at risk from corrosion, which can be accelerated in the presence of chlorine. Each recovered artefact has to be conserved to prevent it from deteriorating in the presence of air and water. Until now, a comparison of the effectiveness of different conservation methods has been hampered by the variable nature of both the artefacts found, and the environment in which they were buried.

>Read more on the Diamond Light Source website

Image: Dr Eleanor Schofield, Dr Giannantonio Cibin and Hayley Simon with iron shot and samples on Diamond’s B18 beamline.
Credit: Diamond Light Source

Examining the crystallisation during additive biomanufacturing

A research group from the University of Manchester has used wide-angle X-ray diffraction (XRD) in one of the first studies to investigate the evolution of crystallinity and crystal orientation in polycaprolactone (PCL) during 3D printing.

The team has developed a new extrusion-based printing machine, the Plasma-assisted Bioextrusion System (PABS). Extrusion-based techniques are widely used due to their versatility and simplicity, and their ability to print a range of materials in a cell-friendly environment, with high precision. PABS uses a novel approach for biomanufacturing and tissue engineering, combining screw-assisted extrusion, pressure-assisted extrusion and plasma jetting.

>Read more on the Diamond Light Source website

Figure: Conceptual material transition from extrusion-based filament printing to the partial replacement of a knee joint via 3D scaffolding.
Credit: Fengyuan Liu, Wajira Mirihanage, Paulo Bartolo, Medical Engineering Research Centre, the University of Manchester

With help from a few friends

Researchers discover the precise make-up of a molecular chaperone complex

A complex made up of three proteins, Hsp90, Sgt1, and Rar1, is thought to stabilise an important immune protein known as nucleotide-binding domain and leucine-rich repeat containing protein. While the structure of the Sgt1-Hsp90-Rar1 protein is known, the stoichiometry of the complex has remained elusive. In a paper published in Frontiers in Molecular Biosciences, Dr Chrisostomos Prodromou of the University of Sussex and Dr Minghao Zhang of the University of Oxford worked with Professor Giuliano Siligardi at the Circular Dichroism beamline (B23) at Diamond Light Source to clarify the detailed make-up of the complex. Using synchrotron radiation circular dichroism, they revealed that it consists of an Hsp90 dimer, two Sgt1 molecules, and a single Rar1 molecule. The stoichiometry of the full complex potentially allows two NLR molecules to bind, a finding which may open avenues of research into how these proteins form dimers.

>Read more on the Diamond Light Source website

Figure: (extract) The structure of the Sgt1-Hsp90-Rar1 complex with an Hsp90 dimer, two Sgt1 molecules, and a single Rar1. Entire image here.

Bespoke beamline engineering: the Diamond Sample Manipulator

The Surface and Interfaces village brings together six beamlines with a range of techniques for investigating structural, magnetic and electronic properties of surfaces and interfaces. Many of those beamlines rely on a Sample Manipulator to hold samples securely in an X-ray beam less than a tenth of a millimetre across, whilst also enabling them to move and rotate around multiple axes and rotate around each axis. The differing requirements of each beamline mean that the basic design of the Sample Manipulator is customised for each one.

The I09 beamline, for example, is used for studying atomic structures and electronic properties across a wide variety of surfaces and material interfaces. The Sample Manipulator on I09 makes it possible to use X-ray techniques to study monolayer adsorption and surface reconstructions in a vacuum, crystalline and non-crystalline thin films, nano-particulates, large molecules and complex organic films and magnetism and magnetic thin-films.

>Read more on the Diamond Light Source website

Image: The Sample Manipulator in situ as seen through the vacuum window.
Credit: Diamond Light Source.

The power of Metal-Organic Frameworks

Trapping nuclear waste at the molecular level

Nuclear power currently supplies just over 10% of the world’s electricity. However one factor hindering its wider implementation is the confinement of dangerous substances produced during the nuclear waste disposal process. One such bi-product of the disposal process is airborne radioactive iodine that, if ingested, poses a significant health risk to humans.  The need for a high capacity, stable iodine store that has a minimised system volume is apparent – and this collaborative research project may have found a solution.

Researchers have successfully used ultra-stable MOFs to confine large amounts of iodine to an exceptionally dense area. A number of complementary experimental techniques, including measurements taken at Diamond Light Source and ISIS Neutron and Muon Source, were coupled with theoretical modelling to understand the interaction of iodine within the MOF pores at the molecular level.

High resolution x-ray powder diffraction (PXRD) data were collected at Diamond’s I11 beamline. The stability and evolution of the MOF pore was monitored as the iodine was loaded into the structure. Comparison of the loaded and empty samples revealed the framework not only adsorbed but retained the iodine within its structure.

>Read more on the Diamond Light Source website

Illustration: Airborne radioactive iodine is one of the bi-products of the nuclear waste disposal process. A recent study involving Diamond Light Source and ISIS Neutron and Muon Source showed how MOFs can capture and store iodine which may have implications for the future confinement of these hazardous substances.

Supporting World Cancer Day 2018

Diamond is proud to be supporting World Cancer Day and highlighting our role, working with our user community, in pioneering synchrotron research in every area of cancer – from developing a better understanding of how cancer cells work to delivering new cancer therapies.
Despite major advances in diagnosis and treatment, cancer still claims the lives of 8.8 million people every year around the world. About 4 million of these die prematurely (under the age of 70). World Cancer Day aims to raise the awareness of cancer and its treatment around the world. With the tagline ‘We can. I can.’, World Cancer Day is exploring how everyone can play their part in reducing the global burden of cancer.

Diamond has published over 900 publications in the last 12 months, with around 10% of these focusing on cancer. The wide-ranging research currently covers at least 12 cancer types, with many more general studies on the structure of cancer cells and pathways, potential drug targets and possible drug candidates. Building on last year’s review of some of the key studies in cancer that have taken place at Diamond, here is an update on studies that have been published in the last 12 months.

>Read more on the Diamond Light Source website


Cool engineering for cold science

Has there ever been life on Mars?

We’re not sure, and current investigations focus around what happened to the water on Mars, which has long since disappeared from the planet’s surface. In 2007, the Opportunity rover detected the presence of meridianiite at its landing site in Meridiani Planum. Meridianiite (also known as MS11) is MgSO4∙11H2O, a hydrated sulfate mineral that is only stable at temperatures below 2°C. Satellite observations tell us that there are outcrops of hydrated sulfate minerals, several kilometres thick, in the walls of Valles Marineris, and meridianiite is thought to be widespread on Mars. Could hydrated minerals such as these be locking away all the water that once flowed on Mars?

>Read more on the Diamond Light Source website


The search for an Ebola vaccine

Researchers expertly solved the crystal structures of drugs bound to the outer coating of the Ebola virus to pinpoint the regions that are essential for inhibitory activity.

Ebola is a viral disease that is highly infectious and associated with a high risk of death. It first arose in 1976, from which point it was associated with dozens of small-scale outbreaks; however, in 2013 Ebola was responsible for a huge epidemic in West Africa. Emergency was declared and over 11,000 people lost their lives to the virus. Despite this horrific state of affairs, Ebola still remains an untreatable disease and there is no vaccine to prevent infection.

>Read more on the Diamond Light Source website