Cutting-edge electron microscope revealed as structural biology centre opens

The microscope is said to be the first of its kind in Scotland.

A “world-class” £5 million structural biology centre housing a cutting-edge electron microscope has opened in Glasgow.

The microscope, which the centre said is the first of its kind in Scotland, will be used to image biological molecules at the atomic level.

Scientists said the technology will be used to support research into diseases posing the greatest threat to human and animal health, boosting capabilities in areas such as vaccine development, cancer research and drug design and discovery.

The new Scottish Centre for Macromolecular Imaging (SCMI) is part of the Medical Research Council-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research (CVR) and is the result of collaboration between researchers from Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee and St Andrews.

Scientist working
A scientist at work in the Scottish Centre for Macromolecular Imaging (University of Glasgow/PA)

Structural biology involves determining the 3D architecture of proteins and other biological components in order to provide crucial insights into important processes in health and disease.

SCMI director Dr David Bhella said: “Cryogenic transmission electron microscopy (cryoEM) is revolutionising the field of structural biology.

“The Scottish Centre for Macromolecular Imaging is a tremendous opportunity not only for the CVR, but also for life sciences in Scotland.

“Our new facility will place the CVR and the University of Glasgow right at the centre of vital structural biology research by offering a world-class capability.

“The new technology will help us investigate key processes in infection and cancer biology.”

Investment for the centre was awarded through the Medical Research Council (MRC) to boost structural and cell biology research, and is part of an £11.3 million government funding boost by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

The opening of the SCMI is centred around a two-day symposium exploring the technology of cryogenic electron microscopy (CryoEM), which allows scientists to study and visualise the biological processes on the cellular and molecular scale.

The SCMI was opened on Tuesday by Dr Richard Henderson, Nobel Laureate 2017 for Chemistry.

He said “CryoEM, after many years of technical improvements, has now become an immensely powerful method for determining the structures of biological molecules and molecular assemblies that have resisted many other approaches.

“The new Scottish Centre for Macromolecular Imaging provides a local capability for world-class structural biology on viruses, immune complexes and other macromolecular assemblies.”

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