Just like lego – studying flexible protein for drug delivery

Researchers from the Sapienza University of Rome and its spin-off company MoLiRom (Italy) are spending the weekend at the ESRF to study a protein that could potentially transport anticancer drugs.

Ferritin is a large spherical protein (20 times bigger than haemoglobin) that stores iron within its cavity in every organism. Just like a lego playset, Ferritin assembles and disassembles. It is also naturally targeted to cancer cells. These are the reasons why Ferritin is a great candidate as a drug-transport protein to fight cancer. An international team of scientists from “Sapienza” University of Rome and the SME MoLiRom (Italy) came to the ESRF to explore a special kind of ferritin that shows promising properties. “This is an archaebacterial ferritin that have transformed into a humanised ferritin to try to tackle cancer cells”, explains Matilde Trabuco, a scientist at the Italian SME MoLiRom.

The mechanism looks simple enough: “Ferritin has a natural attraction to cancer cells. If we encapsulate anti-cancer drugs inside it, it will act as a Trojan horse to go inside cells, then it will open up and deliver the drug”.

Ferritins have been widely used as scaffolds for drug-delivery and diagnostics due to their characteristic cage-like structure. Most ferritins are stable and disassemble only by a harsh pH jump that greatly limits the type of possible cargo. The humanised ferritin was engineered to combine assembly at milder conditions with specific targeting of human cancer cells.


>Read more on the European Synchrotron Website


SRI 2018 in Taipei

The 13th International Conference on Synchrotron Radiation Instrumentation (SRI 2018), attended by more than 850 participants from 25 countries, was hosted by the National Synchrotron Radiation Research Center (NSRRC) between June 10 to 15 at the Taipei International Convention Center. On the 11th, the Conference Chair, Director Shangjr Gwo of NSRRC, opened the conference, followed by a speech given by the vice president of the nation, Dr. Chien-Jen Chen.

The triennial SRI conference is a large and the most significant international forum, organized by the community of worldwide X-ray free electron laser (XFEL) and synchrotron radiation (SR) facilities, to provide opportunities for discussions and collaborations among scientists and engineers around the world involved in development of new concepts, techniques, and instruments related to SR and XFEL research. Subsequent meetings were hosted by countries with the most advanced light source facilities in Europe, America and Asia-Pacific region.

>Read more on the NSRRC website

Image: Vice President Chien-Jen Chen gave a speech in the opening session.

Demonstrating a new approach to lithium-ion batteries

A team of researchers from the University of Cambridge, Diamond Light Source and Argonne National Laboratory in the US have demonstrated a new approach that could fast-track the development of lithium-ion batteries that are both high-powered and fast-charging.

In a bid to tackle rising air pollution, the UK government has banned the sale of new diesel and petrol vehicles from 2040, and the race is on to develop high performance batteries for electric vehicles that can be charged in minutes, not hours. The rechargeable battery technology of choice is currently lithium-ion (Li-ion), and the power output and recharging time of Li-ion batteries are dependent on how ions and electrons move between the battery electrodes and electrolyte. In particular, the Li-ion diffusion rate provides a fundamental limitation to the rate at which a battery can be charged and discharged.

>Read more on the Diamond Light Source website

Scientists unravel mechanism for body odour in armpits

British researchers from the University of York and the University of Oxford have shown the mechanism that leads to body odour in armpits by studying the molecular process at the ESRF and other lightsources.

Stepping into a cramped bus on a hot summer day can sometimes translate into having to hold your breath and a very unpleasant experience. Sweat production increases in hot weather, and, with it, body odour. Despite much research and antiperspirant deodorants, scientists still haven’t managed to selectively block body odour.

Researchers from the University of York and the University of Oxford have recently used the ESRF and Diamond Lightsource to find out what happens at a molecular level when we smell badly. They focused on the apocrine gland, which is found only in the armpit, genitalia and ear canal. It secrets an odourless lipid-rich viscous secretion, which is likely to play a role in scent generation, but it is not involved in thermoregulation.

It all comes down to bacteria. “The skin of our underarms provides a unique niche for bacteria,” explains investigator Gavin Thomas, professor in the department of biology at the University of York and co-leader of the study. “Through the secretions of various glands that open onto the skin or into hair follicles, this environment is nutrient-rich and hosts its own microbial community, the armpit microbiome, of many species of different microbes.”

>Read more on the European Synchrotron (ESRF) website

Image: Picture showing how body odour is produced in armpits.
Credit: University of York and Oxford. 

Insight into catalysis through novel study of X-ray absorption spectroscopy

An international team has made a breakthrough at BESSY II.

For the first time, they succeeded in investigating electronic states of a transition metal in detail and drawing reliable conclusions on their catalytic effect from the data. These results are helpful for the development of future applications of catalytic transition-metal systems. The work has now been published in Chemical Science, the Open Access journal of the Royal Society of Chemistry.

Many important processes in nature depend on catalysts, which are atoms or molecules that facilitate a reaction, but emerge from it themselves unchanged. One example is photosynthesis in plants, which is only possible with the help of a protein complex comprising four manganese atom sites at its centre. Redox reactions, as they are referred to, often play a pivotal role in these types of processes. The reactants are reduced through uptake of electrons, or oxidized through their release. Catalytic redox processes in nature and industry often only succeed thanks to suitable catalysts, where transition metals supply an important function.

>Read more about on the BESSY II at HZB website

Image: Manganese compounds also play a role as catalysts in photosynthesis.
Credit: HZB

Experts disscuss about the future of European particle accelerators

On 19 and 20 July, the ALBA Synchrotron is hosting the 102nd Plenary ECFA meeting, with the participation of 70 researchers, including Dr. Fabiola Gianotti, CERN’s Director-General.

The European Committee for Future Accelerators (ECFA) is an advisory body for CERN Management, CERN Council and its Committees, and to other national and international organizations, on the long-term planning of European High-Energy Physics (HEP) facilities, accelerators and equipment adequate for the conduction of a valid high energy research program.

The participants of the plenary meeting will discuss, during two days, about different topics on high energy physics and the main HEP accelerator facilities in Europe will report on their activities. Fabiola Gianotti, CERN’s Director-General, will report on CERN activities and perspectives. The role of ECFA is of particular relevance in the period 2018-2020 due to the on-going update of the European Strategy for Particle Physics, which will shape the future of the HEP community in Europe and, in particular, what lays ahead for CERN after the High Luminosity LHC project (the upgrade of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) that aims to increase its luminosity such that the accumulated data will be 10 times larger than with the present configuration).

>Read more on the ALBA website

Helmholtz International Fellow Award for N. Mårtensson

The Helmholtz Association has presented the Swedish physicist Nils Mårtensson with a Helmholtz International Fellow Award. 

The synchrotron expert of the University of Uppsala, who heads the nobel comitee for physics, cooperates closely with the HZB-Institute Methods and Instrumentation for Synchrotron Radiation Research. Nils Mårtensson is a professor at Uppsala University. He directed the development of the Swedish synchrotron radiation source Max IV and received a grant from the European Research Council (ERC) in 2013. Mårtensson is a member of the Swedish Academy of Sciences and chairman of the Nobel Committee for Physics. At HZB, he cooperates with Alexander Föhlisch’s team at HZB-Institute Methods and Instrumentation for Synchrotron Radiation Research. Together they run the Uppsala Berlin Joint Laboratory (UBjL) to further develop methods and instruments.

Image: Nils Mårtensson, University of Uppsala, cooperates closely with HZB.

Diamond celebrates publication of its 7000th paper

A paper in PNAS by an international scientific collaboration from the UK, Germany and Switzerland is the 7000th to be published as a result of innovative research conducted at Diamond Light Source, the UK’s Synchrotron.

This new paper reveals details of the 3D spin structure of magnetic skyrmions, and will be of key importance for storing digital information in the development of next-generation devices based on spintronics.

Laurent Chapon, Diamond’s Physical Sciences Director, explains the significance of these new findings:  “A skyrmion is similar to a nanoscale magnetic vortex, made from twisted magnetic spins, but with a non-trivial topology that is ‘protecting them’. They are therefore stable, able to move, deform and interact with their environment without breaking up, which makes them very promising candidates for digital information storage in next-generation devices. For years, scientists have been trying to understand the underlying physical mechanisms that stabilise magnetic skyrmions, usually treating them as 2D objects. However, with its unique facilities and ultra-bright light, Diamond has provided researchers the tools to study skyrmions in 3D revealing significant new data.”

As spintronic devices rely on effects that occur in the surface layers of materials, the team was investigating the influence of surfaces on the twisted spin structure. It is commonly assumed that surface effects only modify the properties of stable materials within the top few atomic layers, and investigating 3D magnetic structures is a challenging task. However, using the powerful circularly polarised light produced at Diamond, the researchers were able to use resonant elastic X-ray scattering (REXS) to reconstruct the full 3D spin structure of a skyrmion below the surface of Cu2OSeO3.

>Read more on the Diamond Light Source website

Image: (extract) Illustration of a ‘Skyrmion tornado’. The skyrmion order changes from Néel-type at the surface to Bloch-type deeper in the sample. On the right hand side, the corresponding stereographic projections of these two boundary skyrmion patterns are shown. Full image and detailed article here.

Maria Faury appointed new chair of the European XFEL Council

As of the 1 July 2018, Maria Faury is the new chair of the European XFEL council, the highest governing body of the company. Maria Faury has an engineering background and is Director of International Affairs and Large Research Infrastructures of the Fundamental Research Division at the Commissariat à l’Énergie Atomique et aux Énergies Alternatives (CEA) in France. She has represented CEA, one of the two European XFEL partners in France, on the council since 2014. She will succeed Prof. Martin Meedom Nielsen from the Technical University of Denmark (DTU), who, having served two terms as chair, will continue to support the work of European XFEL as vice chair. The current vice chair, Prof. Lars Börjesson from Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, will again become a member of the Swedish delegation on the council.

Maria Faury said: “It will be an honor, and a real pleasure for me to chair the European XFEL Council. Since 2014, I have had the chance to witness the progress in the construction of the facility and have been impressed by the unwavering involvement of the staff, the management and the stakeholders. European XFEL is now operating and attracting scientists from all over the world, starting to deliver excellent science. The coming years will be very exciting and all together we will ensure that European XFEL remains a world-leading facility. I fully trust Robert Feidenhans’l and his team and I am very happy to work more closely with them in the future. I would like to thank Martin Meedom Nielson who has chaired the council in such a nice, open and positive way. He has been very inspiring to us and I am happy he will continue as vice chair.”

>Read more on the European XFEL website

Picture: Maria Faury, new chair of the European XFEL Council

Redox-transformation kinetics of aqueous thio-arsenic species…

… determining arsenic sequestration by organic thiol groups of peat.

Arsenic (As) is a toxic metalloid which has attracted the attention of the general public because of its natural toxic concentrations in drinking water of millions of people around the world.  The mobility and bioavailability of As thereby strongly depends on redox conditions, often linked to the redox cycles of sulfur (S), iron (Fe), and carbon (C). In reducing systems such as wetlands (swamps, peatlands, paddy fields etc.) As is thought to be mainly present in its reduced trivalent form as arsenite. Naturally, these systems are rich in natural organic matter (NOM) because mineralization of carbon is delayed under anoxic, reducing conditions. Furthermore sulfur, which acts as a main nutrient for plants, can also be present in its reduced forms as e.g. organic thiol groups in NOM-rich environments after anoxic decomposition of plant debris or reduction of released sulfate.

>Read more on the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL) website

Figure: (extract) Proposed conceptual model for the As-S chemistry in the minerotrophic peatland Gola di Lago, Switzerland. Scenario 1: arsenate and arsenite prevail as long as no reduced inorganic sulfur is present. Scenario 2: monothioarsenate formation from arsenite and surface-bound zerovalent sulfur species. Scenario 3: formation of higher thiolated arsenates from monothioarsenate under conditions of available free sulfide. (…)  Entire figure and information here
Credit: Besold et al. 2018, ES&T, DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.8b01542, Copyright 2018, American Chemical Society.

Probing the complex dielectric properties of MOFs

Gaining fundamental insights into the full dielectric behaviour of MOFs across the infrared and THz.

An international team of researchers from Oxford, Diamond, and Turin, has demonstrated the novel use of synchrotron radiation infrared (SRIR) reflectivity experiments, to measure the complex and broadband dielectric properties of metal-organic framework (MOFs) materials. Open framework compounds like MOFs have the potential to revolutionise the field of low-k dielectrics, because of their tuneable porosity coupled with an enormous combination of physicochemical properties not found in conventional systems. Furthermore, next generation IR optical sensors and high-speed terahertz (THz) communication technologies will stand to benefit from an improved understanding of the fundamental structure-property relations underpinning novel THz dielectric materials.

>Read more on the Diamond Light Source website

Image: (extract) The high-resolution reflectivity data obtained were subsequently used to determine the real and imaginary components of the complex dielectric function by adopting the Kramers−Kronig Transformation theory.
Credit: ACS

Biological light sensor filmed in action

Film shows one of the fastest processes in biology

Using X-ray laser technology, a team led by researchers of the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI has recorded one of the fastest processes in biology. In doing so, they produced a molecular movie that reveals how the light sensor retinal is activated in a protein molecule. Such reactions occur in numerous organisms that use the information or energy content of light – they enable certain bacteria to produce energy through photosynthesis, initiate the process of vision in humans and animals, and regulate adaptations to the circadian rhythm. The movie shows for the first time how a protein efficiently controls the reaction of the embedded light sensor. The images, now published in the journal Science, were captured at the free-electron X-ray laser LCLS at Stanford University in California. Further investigations are planned at SwissFEL, the new free-electron X-ray laser at PSI. Besides the scientists from Switzerland, researchers from Japan, the USA, Germany, Israel, and Sweden took part in this study.

>Read more on the SwissFEL at Paul Scherrer Institute website

Image: Jörg Standfuss at the injector with which protein crystals for the experiments at the Californian X-ray laser LCLS were tested. In the near future, this technology will also be available at PSI’s X-ray laser SwissFEL, for scientists from all over the world.
Credit: Paul Scherrer Institute/Mahir DzaAmbegovic

Perovskites, the rising star for energy harvesting

Perovskites are promising candidates for photovoltaic cells, having reached an energy harvesting of more than 20% while it took silicon three decades to reach an equivalent. Scientists from all over the world are exploring these materials at the ESRF.

Photovoltaic (PV) panels exist in our society since several years now. The photovoltaic market is currently dominated by wafer-based photovoltaics or first generation PVs, namely the traditional crystalline silicon cells, which take a 90% of the market share.

Although silicon (Si) is an abundant material and the price of Si-PV has dropped in the past years, their manufacturing require costly facilities. In addition, their fabrication typically takes place in countries that rely on carbon-intensive forms of electricity generation (high carbon footprint).

But there is room for hope. There is a third generation of PV: those based on thin-film cells. These absorb light more efficiently and they currently take 10% of the market share.

>Read more on the European Synchrotron website

Image: The CEA-CNRS team on ID01. From left to right: Peter Reiss, from CEA-Grenoble/INAC, Tobias Schulli from ID01, Tao Zhou from ID01, Asma Aicha Medjahed, Stephanie Pouget (both from CEA-Grenoble/INAC) and David Djurado, from the CNRS. 
Credits: C. Argoud.

Big science -literally- at ESRF

This is no ordinary experiment. With a huge detector in tow and a team of 15 scientists from Goethe University in Frankfurt (Germany), it is probably as big as science gets -literally.

A 4-metre-long lorry arrived at the ESRF with a precious load: a so-called COLTRIMS Reaction Microscope. The chamber is so big that it requires a crane to fit it into the experimental hutch of ID31. And lots of manpower to set the experiment up. The aim: to image the momentum distribution of one of the two electrons in the Helium atom without averaging over the momentum distribution of the other, offering the most complete and detailed view on electron correlation.

The COLTRIMS technique allows the team to measure event by event the initial state momentum of a Compton scattered electron of a Helium atom and, in coincidence with this, they measure the second electron’s momentum as it is shaken off.

>Read more on the European Synchrotron website

Image: The team was in high spirits throughout the two-week duration of the experiment.
Credits: M. Kircher.