New nanoimaging method traces metal presence in Parkinson’s brain

Many neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s often exhibit an excess of iron in the brain. Scientists have developed a method to trace the presence of metals in brain at the sub-cellular level, particularly in organelles of neurons vulnerable to these diseases. The results are published in Communications Biology.

The level and distribution of iron in the brain normally contributes to essential cellular functions, including mitochondrial respiration, via its capability to transfer electrons. In vulnerable populations of neurons however, iron dysregulation can have detrimental effects. Genetic defects affecting iron metabolism cause brain diseases, including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, both associated with iron overload. “It is important to be able to explore metal distribution in neurons and glia (non-neuronal cells), with the aim to identify potential causal mechanisms in neurodegeneration”, explains Bernard Schneider, scientist at EPFL and co-author of the study.

Until now, there was no method that could trace the elements with sensitivity and nanometre resolution. A team of scientists from LGL-TPE (Laboratoire de Géologie de Lyon : Terre, Planètes et Environnement), Institut des Sciences de la terre (ISTerre) de Grenoble, the ESRF and the EPFL (École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne) have now combined the techniques of transmission electron microscopy and synchrotron X-ray fluorescence at the ESRF in order to evaluate the element unbalance in Parkinson’s disease.

Read more on the ESRF website

Image : Composition of P/Fe/S in a section of a neuron of the substantia nigra. The neuron and its nucleus are highlighted by dashed lines. Cytoplasmic granules rich in Fe and S are pointed out by arrows. 

Credit: Lemelle, L, et al, Communications Biology, DOI : 10.1038/s42003-020-1084-0.

Researchers find the key to preserving The Scream

Moisture is the main environmental factor that triggers the degradation of the masterpiece The Scream (1910?) by Edvard Munch, according to the finding of an international team of scientists led by the CNR (Italy), using a combination of in situ non-invasive spectroscopic methods and synchrotron Xray techniques. After exploiting the capability of the European mobile platform MOLAB in situ and non-invasively at the Munch Museum in Oslo, the researchers came to the ESRF, the European Synchrotron (Grenoble, France), the world’s brightest X-ray source, to carry out non-destructive
experiments on micro-flakes originating from one of the most well-known versions of The Scream. The findings could help better preserve this masterpiece, which is seldom exhibited due to its degradation. The study is published in Science Advances.


The Scream is among the most famous paintings of the modern era. The now familiar image is interpreted as the ultimate representation of anxiety and mental anguish. There are a number of versions of The Scream, namely two paintings, two pastels, several lithographic prints and a few drawings and sketches. The two most well-known versions are the paintings that Edvard Munch created in 1893 and 1910. Each version of The Scream is unique. Munch clearly experimented to find the exact colours to represent his personal experience, mixing diverse binding media (tempera, oil and pastel) with brilliant and bold synthetic pigments to make ‘screaming colours’. Unfortunately, the extensive use of these new coloured materials poses a challenge for the long-term preservation of Munch’s artworks.

Read more on the ESRF website

Image: ESRF scientist Marine Cotte during the synchrotron experiment at ID21 beamline, at the ESRF, the European Synchrotron, Grenoble, France.

Credit: ESRF/Stef Candé

Out of the blue: X-rays shed light on on ultramarine blue in masterpieces

According to a survey led by Nature in 2016, 70% of scientists admitted they could not reproduce another scientist’s experiments and more than half could not reproduce their own. In order to improve sharing and, in turn, enhancing innovation, the European Union is working on implementing the European Open Science Cloud (EOSC), a kind of “library” of all experimental raw data and methods, available to everyone.

The ESRF is doing its bit by leading the PaNOSC (Photon and Neutron Open Science Cloud) project: “We are in the process of implementing the ESRF Data Policy to organise the data from experiments in an archive, which ultimately everyone will be able to access. The scientific teams will have three years to keep their data closed to the public, and after that any other scientist can try to repeat or do new data analysis of the very same experiment if he or she wishes to”, explains Andy Götz, coordinator of the project. The final goal of PaNOSC and the EOSC is to make data from publicly funded research in Europe Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable (FAIR).

>Read more on the ESRF website

Image: Alessa Gambardella at a stereomicroscope looking at ultramarine blue in Hendrick per Brugghen’s The Adoration of the Kings (1619)

Credit: Courtesy of Department of Conservation & Science, Rijksmuseum.

Synchrotron X-ray sheds light on some of the world’s oldest dinosaur eggs

An international team of scientists led by the University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa), has been able to reconstruct the skulls of some of the world’s oldest known dinosaur embryos in 3D at the ESRF.

They found that the skulls develop in the same order as those of today’s crocodiles and chickens. The findings are published today in Scientific Reports.
University of the Witwatersrand scientists publish 3D reconstructions of the ~2cm-long skulls of some of the world’s oldest dinosaur embryos in an article in Scientific Reports. The embryos, found in 1976 in Golden Gate Highlands National Park (Free State Province, South Africa) belong to South Africa’s iconic dinosaur Massospondylus carinatus, a 5-meter long herbivore that nested in the Free State region 200 million years ago.

The scientific usefulness of the embryos was previously limited by their extremely fragile nature and tiny size. In 2015, scientists Kimi Chapelle and Jonah Choiniere, from the University of Witwatersrand, brought them to the European Synchrotron (ESRF) in Grenoble, France for scanning. At the ESRF, an 844 metre-ring of electrons travelling at the speed of light emits high-powered X-ray beams that can be used to non-destructively scan matter, including fossils. The embryos were scanned at an unprecedented level of detail – at the resolution of an individual bone cell.

>Read more on the ESRF website

Image: Watercolour painting of the Massospondylus carinatus embryos at 17% through the incubation period, 60% through the incubation period and 100% through the incubation period.
Artwork: Mélanie Saratori.

Lucy had an ape-like brain, but prolonged brain growth like humans

A study led by the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology reveals that Lucy’s species, Australopithecus afarensis, had an ape-like brain.

However, the protracted brain growth suggests that infants may have had a long dependence on caregivers, as in humans. The study, in collaboration with the ESRF, is published in Science Advances.

The species Australopithecus afarensis, well-known as Lucy’s species, inhabited East Africa more than three million years ago, and occupies a key position in the hominin family tree.. “Lucy and her kind provide important evidence about early hominin behavior. They walked upright, had brains that were around 20 percent larger than those of chimpanzees and may have used sharp stone tools,” explains senior author Zeresenay Alemseged from the University of Chicago, who directs the Dikika field project in Ethiopia, where the skeleton of an Australopithecus afarensis child, known as Dikika child and nicknamed Selam, was found in the year 2000. “Our new results show how their brains developed, and how they were organized,” adds Alemseged.

>Read more on the European Synchrotron website

Image: Brain imprints in fossil skulls of the speciesAustralopithecus afarensis(famous for “Lucy” and the “Dikika child” from Ethiopia pictured here) shed new lighton the evolution of brain growth and organization. The exceptionally preservedendocranial imprint of the Dikika child reveals an ape-likebrain organization, and nofeatures derived towards humans.
Credit: Philipp Gunz, MPI EVA Leipzig.

X-rays shine again in the Experimental Hall

It’s a great achievement for the EBS project. Beamlines saw first EBS beam one month ahead of schedule.

30 January 2020, after reaching in the last two days stable operation conditions of the EBS storage ring at 100 mA injection current, 65% injection efficiency and stable and rapid vacuum conditioning, 26 out of 27 Insertion Device beamlines opened their front-end with 5 mA stored electron beam current. 

The EBS X-ray beam – on all these beamlines, at distances from the source varying from 45 to 160 m, depending on the specific beamline – was found within fractions of millimetres from its position as measured in December 2018 before the start of the shutdown.

>Read more on the ESRF website

First stored beam

6 December, 12.30 pm. Today, the electrons have been stored for the first time, in the new Extremely Brilliant Source (EBS) storage ring.

Today, 6 December 12:30 pm was a great and intense moment for all the ESRF teams: the electrons have been stored for the first time in the new EBS storage ring, only five days after the start of the EBS storage ring commissioning. This is a new key milestone on the way to opening to the international scientific community the first high-energy fourth-generation synchrotron light source, known as EBS – Extremely Brilliant Source.

” Seeing the first beam stored only five days after the start of the commissioning is a huge achievement and an intense moment for all involved. EBS is becoming a reality.” said Pantaleo Raimondi, ESRF accelerator and source director and EBS storage ring concept inventor and project leader.

>Read more on the European Synchrotron website

First electrons turn in the ESRF’s Extremely Brilliant Source Storage Ring

This is an important milestone on the way to opening to the international scientific community the first high-energy fourth-generation synchrotron light source, known as EBS – Extremely Brilliant Source.

It marks the successful completion of the engineering and installation of a worldwide-unique accelerator within the existing ESRF infrastructure, and the start of the commissioning phase of a brand-new generation of high-energy synchrotron.
Expectation was high in the ESRF’s control room on 2 December as teams carefully monitored the first turns of the electrons around the new EBS storage ring. “Seeing the first electrons circulating is a huge achievement and proof of the hard work and expertise of the teams who have been working on this since 2015,” said Pantaleo Raimondi, ESRF accelerator and source director and EBS storage ring concept inventor and project leader. “It’s a great moment for all involved.”

>Read more on the ESRF website

Image: The first three turns of electrons in the new EBS storage ring.

The mechanism of the most commonly used antimalarial drugs unveiled

For centuries, quinoline has been an effective compound in antimalarial drugs, although no one knew its mode of action in vivo.

Today, a team led by the Weizmann Institute has discovered its mechanism in infected red blood cells in near-native conditions, by using the ESRF, Alba Synchrotron and BESSY. They publish their results in PNAS.

Malaria remains one of the biggest killers in low-income countries. Estimates of the number of deaths each year range from 450,000 to 720,000, with the majority of deaths happening in Africa. In the last two decades, the malaria parasite has evolved into drug-resistant strains. “Recently, the increasing geographical spread of the species, as well as resistant strains has concerned the scientific community, and in order to improve antimalarial drugs we need to know how they work precisely”, explains Sergey Kapishnikov, from the University of Copenhagen, in Denmark, and the Weizmann Institute, in Israel, and leader of the study.

Plasmodium parasite, when infecting a human, invades a red blood cell, where it ingests hemoglobin to grow and multiply. Hemoglobin releases then iron-containing heme molecules, which are toxic to the parasite. However, these molecules crystallise into hemozoin, a disposal product formed from the digestion of blood by the parasite that makes the molecules inert. For the parasite to survive, the rate at which the heme molecules are liberated must be slower or the same as the rate of hemozoin crystallization. Otherwise there would be an accumulation of the toxic heme within the parasite.

>Read more on the ESRF website

Image (taken from BESSY II article): The image shows details such as the vacuole of the parasites (colored in blue and green) inside an infected blood cell.
Credit:
S. Kapishnikov

Two other institutes, BESSY II at HZB and ALBA Synchrotron, have participated in this research. Please find here their published articles:

> X-ray microscopy at BESSY II reveal how antimalaria-drugs might work

> The mechanism of the most commonly used antimlalarial drugs in near- native conditions unveiled

Direct evidence of small airway closure in acute respiratory distress syndrome

Airway closure is thought to play an important role in acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS).

Airway closure has been imaged for the first time in an ARDS model by synchrotron phase contrast imaging providing direct evidence of this phenomenon.

ARDS is an acute inflammatory lung condition associated with high permeability oedema, surfactant dysfunction and widespread collapse of pulmonary alveoli, called atelectasis, which leads to decreased lung compliance and volume [1]. Clinicians have long suspected that the collapsibility of small airways is increased in this clinical syndrome, causing atelectasis [2,3]. While patients invariably require mechanical ventilation to survive, this life support measure can worsen lung injury due to exaggerated stress and strain applied to the tissue, which is magnified by mechanical inhomogeneity of lung tissue and atelectasis. Efforts to develop ventilation strategies that protect the lung, critically depend on our understanding of the mechanical behaviour of lung tissue and airways at the microscale. However, traditional computed tomography studies have not been able to clearly identify airway closure as a cause of atelectasis, due to their limited spatial resolution. To better identify the mechanisms involved in airway closure, it is necessary to use approaches that allow the study of individual airways. Here, the same individual small airways in intact lungs of anesthetised and mechanically ventilated rabbits with ARDS was studied using high resolution synchrotron phase-contrast computed tomography at beamline ID17.

>Read more on the European Synchrotron (ESRF) website

Ultra-white beetle scales may be the key to more sustainable paint

An international team of researchers has managed to mimic the colour of the Cyphochilus beetle scales – one of the brightest whites in nature, thanks to the ESRF’s imaging capabilities. This could help the development of ultra-white, sustainable paints.

Cyphochilus beetle scales are one of the brightest whites in nature. Until now, researchers did not known how their ultra-white appearance is created. X-ray nanotomography experiments at the ESRF have shown that the nanostructure in their tiny scales creates the colour, not the use of pigment or dyes.
Andrew Parnell, from the University of Sheffield and corresponding author of the study said: “In the natural world, whiteness is usually created by a foamy Swiss cheese-like structure made of a solid interconnected network and air. Until now, how these structures form and develop and how they have evolved light-scattering properties has remained a mystery.”
The findings show that the foamy structure of the beetles’ scales has the right proportion of empty spaces, in a highly interconnected nano-network, which optimise the scattering of light – creating the ultra-white colouring.

>Read more on the European Synchrotron website

Image: Andrew Denison and Stephanie Burg in the experimental hutch of beamline ID16B. 

Metal particles abraded from tattooing needles travel inside the body

Allergic reactions are common side effects of tattoos and pigments have been blamed for this. Now researchers prove, for the first time, that particles, containing the allergens nickel and chromium, wear from the needle during the tattooing process, travel inside the body and could also induce allergies.

The number of tattooed people has increased substantially in recent years, with some countries revealing to have up to 24% of the population with a tattoo. Adverse reactions from tattoos are common and until now, researchers believed only inks were to blame.
“There is more to tattoos than meet the eye. It is not only about the cleanliness of the parlour, the sterilization of the equipment or even about the pigments. Now we find that the needle wear also has an impact in your body”, explains Hiram Castillo, one of the authors of the study and scientist at the ESRF.
Today, in a new study published in the journal Particle and Fibre Toxicology, scientists have shown that, surprisingly, chromium and nickel particles coming from tattoo needle wear are distributed towards the lymph nodes. Usually tattoo needles contain nickel (6–8%) and chromium (15–20%) both of which prompt a high rate of sensitization in the general population and may therefore play a role in tattoo allergies. Two years ago, the same team of researchers found that the pigments and their metal impurities are transported to the lymph nodes in a nanoform, where they can be found years after the placement of the tattoos.

>Read more on the ESRF website and watch the video below

Image: Ines Schreiver, first author (German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR), Berlin, Germany), with Julie Villanova, ESRF scientist during experiments at the ESRF ID16B beamline.
Credit: ESRF

Mutated protein could become a non-hormonal contraceptive target

An international team of scientists from the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden and Nagoya University has explained how mutations in egg coat protein ZP1 cause infertility in women. The study suggests that ZP1 could be a promising candidate for future non-hormonal contraceptive efforts.
ZP1 is a glycoprotein involved in the fertilization of eggs by cross-linking egg coat filaments. Because studies in mice showed that lack of ZP1 reduces but does not abolish fertility, scientists believed that this molecule was also not crucial for fertility in humans. This new study, however, suggests that ZP1 may have a much more important role in human reproduction than previously thought. “The results were a big surprise because they suggested that mutations that truncate the human ZP1 protein cause female sterility by hindering its cross-linking function, rather than interfering with other egg coat proteins”, explains Luca Jovine, professor at the Karolinska Institutet and leader of the study.

>Read more on the ESRF website

Image: The mutation W83R of human ZP1 does not hinder its secretion but reduces its cross-linking (panel b), likely due to the fact that – as suggested by the structure of chicken ZP1 (panel a) – W83 (W72 in chicken ZP1) stacks between a sugar attached to ZP1 and the loop that makes the cross-link (“cd loop”). The part of the sugar chain that stacks against W83, which is a fucose residue, was only resolved in the structure of the fully glycosylated protein (violet) whose data came from ESRF ID23-1.

Earth’s mantle could be more magnetic than once thought

The Earth’s mantle has long been considered non-magnetic, due to high temperatures at depth.

An international team of scientists used ID18 to study the iron oxide hematite (Fe2O3), a strongly magnetic mineral, at temperatures and pressures found down to the Earth’s lower mantle. Their study, published in Nature, provides evidence that hematite retains magnetic properties at the depth of the transition zone between the upper and lower mantle at certain temperatures and could therefore be a source of magnetic anomalies there.
Scientists have traditionally considered the Earth’s mantle to be non-magnetic due to its elevated temperatures being too high to retain any magnetism in the constituting minerals. However, satellite and aeromagnetic data provide evidence for magnetic anomalies in the mantle, particularly around cooler areas such as subduction zones (tectonic plate boundaries where one plate is forced underneath another). The source of the anomalies remains largely unknown, but iron oxides are considered a likely source due to their high critical temperatures. Of these, hematite (Fe2O3) is the dominant iron oxide at depths of around 300 – 600 km below the Earth’s surface – a transition zone between the upper and the lower mantle.

>Read more on the ESRF website

The most complete study of battery failure sees the light

An international team of researchers just published in Advanced Energy Materials the widest study on what happens during battery failure, focusing on the different parts of a battery at the same time. The role of the ESRF was crucial for its success.

We have all experienced it: you have charged your mobile phone and after a short period using it, the battery goes down unusually quickly. Consumer electronics seem to lose power at uneven rates and this is due to the heterogeneity in batteries. When the phone is charging, the top layer charges first and the bottom layer charges later. The mobile phone may indicate it’s complete when the top surface level is finished charging, but the bottom will be undercharged. If you use the bottom layer as your fingerprint, the top layer will be overcharged and will have safety problems.
The truth is, batteries are composed of many different parts that behave differently. Solid polymer helps hold particles together, carbon additives provide electrical connection, and then there are the active battery particles storing and releasing the energy.
An international team of scientists from ESRF, SLAC, Virginia Tech and Purdue University wanted to understand and quantitatively define what leads to the failure of lithium-ion batteries. Until then, studies had either zoomed in on individual areas or particles in the cathode during failure or zoomed out to look at cell level behavior without offering sufficient microscopic details. Now this study provides the first global view with unprecedented amount of microscopic structural details to complement the existing studies in the battery literature.

>Read more on the ESRF website

Killing two parasites with one stone

Each year Malaria affects 219 million people, causing almost half a million deaths. Crysptosporidiosis is the leading cause of diarrheal diseases in infants, leading to 200,000 deaths a year. An international team of scientists, led by researchers at the University of Dundee, have discovered a molecule which clears the parasites that cause these two illnesses. Their results are published in PNAS.

Malaria is a well-known disease caused by the parasites Plasmodium falciparum and Plamodium vivax and is the target of many available medications. However, the development of drug resistance has led the scientific community search for new therapeutic molecules which might provide for chemoprotection, prevention of transmission, and the treatment of relapsing malaria.
Like malaria, cryptosporidiosis is also a disease caused parasites, in this case Cryptosporidium hominis and Cryptosporidium parvum. Although it does not have the same ‘visibility as Malaria, Cryptosporidiosis is the leading cause worldwide of moderate-to-severe diarrheal diseases in infants and is estimated to lead to more than 200,000 deaths a year. The disease and is also associated with malnutrition, stunted growth, and cognitive-development problems in children. The currently approved drug, nitazoxanide, has poor efficacy, particularly in the case of immune-compromised patients and malnourished children, where there is no effective treatment.

>Read more on the ESRF website

Image: Binding modes of ligands bound to PfKRS1 and CpKRS. (A) PfKRS1:Lys:2 showing the binding mode of 2 (C atoms, gold) bound to the ATP site of PfKRS1 (PDB ID code 6AGT) superimposed upon PfKRS1:Lys:cladosporin (cladosporin C atoms, slate; PDB ID code 4PG3). (B) PfKRS1:5 showing binding mode of 5 bound to PfKRS1 (PDB ID code 6HCU). (See the full image: here)