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


Inspiring the next generation by supporting the Year of Engineering

Diamond has pledged its support for the Government’s Year of Engineering 2018.

It is a national campaign to increase awareness and understanding of what engineers do among youngsters aged 7-16, their parents and teachers to tackle the engineering skills gap. Launched in response to an estimated shortfall of 20,000 engineering graduates a year and reports that the skills shortage is having a significant impact on productivity and growth, the Year of Engineering seeks to galvanise industry, policy makers, parents and teachers in a national push to inspire the next generation of engineers.

Diamond will be supporting the campaign by hosting a series of careers and open days throughout the year. These will be designed to inspire interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and to highlight the various roles and career paths available at the synchrotron. Every year, 3,000 members of the general public as well as 3,000 school students visit the facility and this year Diamond will be opening its doors to even more.

Diamond, which last year celebrated its 10th anniversary, will be hosting a careers day on Wednesday 21 February. On the day, delegates will be welcomed to the facility to learn about the engineers and engineering opportunities at Diamond. Delegates will be given the opportunity to tour Diamond’s unique facility and have a meet-and-greet session with experts covering mechanical, electrical and software engineering. Register your interest here.


>Read more on the Diamond Light Source website


Extraterrestrial Oceans

Exploring the solar system does not need spacecraft

One of the amazing things scientists can do at Diamond is to recreate conditions of other parts of the Universe. Recently they used this remarkable ability to peer into the salty waters hidden underneath kilometres of ice on Enceladus, one of Saturn’s moons.
In September, NASA ended the Cassini mission in spectacular fashion, crashing the spacecraft into Saturn. For twenty years, Cassini brought us closer to our gas giant neighbour and its moons. The probe made astonishing discoveries about one of them: Enceladus. This small moon has plumes of gas erupting from its surface, it has a rocky core covered in a thick layer of ice, and in between lies a deep, salty ocean. It is one of the most promising places to look for extraterrestrial life. Enceladus is one of the few places in the Solar System where liquid water is known to exist.
Spacecraft aren’t our only way of exploring the solar system, and Stephen leads a team of experimental astrophysicists based at Diamond and Keele University (UK), who have been recreating the conditions in Enceladus’s salty ocean right here in Harwell. They have been using Diamond’s astoundingly bright light to investigate one of the more mysterious properties of water – its ability to form clathrates when water is cooled under pressure. Clathrates are ice-like structures that behave like tiny cages, and can trap molecules such as carbon dioxide and methane.


>Read more on the Diamond Light Source website

Image Credit: LPG-CNRS-U. Nantes/Charles U., Prague.

Malaria in Action

Seeing the invisible

In 2007 Helen Saibil was at a conference in Australia. Amongst the presentations there happened to be talks on the parasites malaria and toxoplasma and how they infect mammalian cells, causing disease. Helen is a structural biologist and whilst listening she began to realise that her newly acquired skills -she was doing electron tomography of cells- might allow the researchers to see things they had never seen before.

Electron tomography reveals structures in the interiors of cells in great detail. What she hoped was that it could be used to look at the malaria parasites inside red blood cells [See images below] to get a better understanding of what they do there. Helen approached one of the speakers, Mike Blackman, then at the National Institute for Medical Research at Mill Hill in London, and so began a thriving collaboration. One that has produced the remarkable pictures of malaria parasites breaking out of infected human red blood cells on this page.

Helen Saibil and her colleagues used electron tomography to peer into malaria infected cells, looking at the parasites hiding and multiplying inside. The technique produces exquisitely detailed pictures able to reveal very tiny features, but it has one big drawback. Electrons cannot penetrate deep into the sample so it only works on very thinly sliced samples, much thinner than an individual cell. As a result it cannot be used to look at entire cells, or in this case red blood cells containing malaria parasites.

>Read more on the Diamond Light Source website


Diamond Long duration beamline gets a gold star

A LDE experiment has provided Diamond’s Christmas image this year. It’s examining the slow in situ precipitation of meridianiite, a hydrated magnesium sulfate mineral. Meridianiite is named for Meridiani Planum. In 2007 the Mars rover Opportunity observed crystal moulds in the sedimentary rock there, and these are thought to be caused by minerals that have since dehydrated or dissolved. Researchers investigating whether Mars once harboured life are very interested in the planet’s hydrological history, and want to know how much water remains on the surface of Mars and how it is being held – for example, in hydrated minerals such as meridianiite.

Read more on the Diamond website

3D printed ceramics, inspired by nature

Robocasting can produce strong components with intricate internal structures

3D printing (also known as additive manufacturing) is advancing by leaps and bounds, and has been used to make everything from customised prosthetics to a concrete bridge. Behind the scenes it is revolutionising rapid prototyping, and there’s even a 3D printer on the International Space Station. Sub-micron 3D printing now offers a fantastic level of control, and produces items with remarkable properties, but is a slow process that is impractical for manufacturing larger objects.
For some time, scientists have known about the remarkably complex internal structures of natural materials such as bone, wood and mother-of-pearl, which give them resistance to cracks and fractures. Replicating these structures with traditional manufacturing methods is impossible, but recent research published in Scientific Reports has demonstrated that 3D printing can be used to produce bio-inspired structures in a reasonable timeframe.

>Read more on the Diamond Light Source website

Cooking oil and clouds

The complex behaviour of atmospheric aerosols has implications for climate change researc

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the increase in atmospheric aerosols and clouds since pre-Industrial times is one of the largest sources of uncertainty in climate change. Aerosol emissions from cooking are not currently included in European emission figures, yet recent research1 suggests that they contribute nearly 10% of human-related emissions of small particulate matter (PM2.5) in the UK. Now research carried out at Diamond, MAX-lab in Sweden, the University of Bath and the University of Reading published in Nature Communications has demonstrated that atmospheric aerosols can form complex 3D structures, with important implications for their role in climate change.

The work is a collaboration between the atmospheric scientist Dr Christian Pfrang and the biophysical chemist Dr Adam Squires.

>Read more on the diamond website or the MAX-IV website

Image: A levitated droplet at MAX-lab.

New methodology for protein crystallisation

A step-by-step video of the experimental process and associated text protocol to provide a robust method for structure determination by X-ray crystallography of a bacterial protein involved in carbohydrate uptake has been broadcast via the Journal of Visualized Experiments (JOVE).

Scientists from Diamond Light Source have published a novel video-based article of their work here at the synchrotron. The study presented the characterisation of a bacterial protein from Streptococcus pneumoniae that is involved in uptake of carbohydrates by the bacteria to use as a nutrient source. These proteins are potential targets for vaccine and/or new antibacterials due to their location on the surface of the bacteria and their critical role in infection, thus understanding the molecular structure can contribute to new strategies for combatting pneumococcal disease.


Read more on the Diamond website

Ubiquitous formation of type-I and type-II bulk Dirac cones and topological surface states from a single orbital manifold in transition-metal dichalcogenides

Transition-metal dichalcogenides (TMDs) are renowned for their rich and varied properties. They range from metals and superconductorsto strongly spin-orbit-coupled semiconductors and charge-density-wave systems with their single-layer variants one of the most prominent current examples of two-dimensional materials beyond graphene.Their varied ground states largely depend on the transition metal d-electron-derived electronic states, on which the vast majority of attention has been concentrated to date.

Read more on the Elettra website.

Image:Chalcogen-derived topological ladder in PdTe2.(a) Orbitally-resolved bulk electronic structure of PdTe2, indicating dominantly chalcogen-derived orbital character for the states in the vicinity of the Fermi level. (b) The measured out-of-plane dispersion together with the calculated band structure. Measured (c) and calculated (d) in-plane dispersion. (e,f) Spin-resolved energy distribution curves along the lines shown in (c).

Detecting microcracks in bone

Synchrotron scans suggest osteoporosis drugs may weaken bone

Osteoporosis, a disease that causes bones to become fragile, affects around 200 million people across the world and contributes to 8.9 million fractures every year. The bisphosphonate (BP) family of drugs is widely used in the treatment for osteoporosis. BP prevents the loss of bone by slowing down the natural renewal process that breaks down old bone. Although BP has been shown to reduce the number of fractures due to osteoporosis, there is increasing evidence that the drug’s long-term effects may not be entirely positive.

The issue lies in microcracks, thinner than a human hair, which occur in bone as a natural result of wear and tear. In healthy bone, these cracks are naturally repaired. In patients treated with BP, microcracks can accumulate and affect the strength of the bone.

Microcracks are too small to be seen with laboratory imaging techniques, but recent experiments show – for the first time in human bone – that they can be measured with synchrotron light, via a technique called micro-CT.


>Read more on the Diamond Light Source website


How ‘super-microscopes’ are changing the face of European science

Today, 13th of November, in Brussels 16 organisations representing 19 light sources facilities across Europe have gathered to launch the LEAPS initiative and signed an agreement to strengthen their collaboration, in the presence of Robert-Jan Smits, Director General for Research and Innovation (RTD) at the European Commission, and Giorgio Rossi, Chair of the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI).

LEAPS, the League of European Accelerator-based Photon Sources, aims to offer a step change in European cooperation, through a common vision of enabling scientific excellence solving global challenges, and boosting European competitiveness and integration. This will be achieved through a common sustainable strategy developed in coordination with all stakeholders, including national policy makers, user communities and the European Commission.

>Read more on the Diamond Light Source website