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Diamond to shine light on infections

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Diamond to shine light on infections

Post  Panda on Mon 18 Feb - 8:04

Diamond to shine light on infections


By Jonathan Amos Science
correspondent, BBC News, Boston
A joint UK and Chinese team
working at Diamond solved the structure of EV71 last year
Continue reading the main story
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The UK's national synchrotron
facility - the Diamond Light Source near Oxford - is to become a world centre
for studying the structure of viruses and bacteria that cause serious
disease.

Diamond uses intense X-rays to reveal
the molecular and atomic make-up of objects and materials.

It will now use this capability to image Containment Level 3 pathogens.

These are responsible for illnesses such as Aids, hepatitis and some types of
flu.

Level 3 is one step down from the most dangerous types of infectious agent,
such as Ebola, which can only be handled in the most secure government
facilities.

"Viruses, as you know, are sort of tiny nanomachines and you can't see them
in a normal microscope.

"But with the crystallography and X-ray techniques we use, we are able to get
about 10,000 times the resolution of the normal light microscope," explained
Dave Stuart, the life sciences director at Diamond and a professor of structural
biology at Oxford University.

"This takes us from the regime of not being able to see them to being able to
see individual atoms.

"And if we can look at 'live' viruses and get an atomic-level description of
them, it opens up the possibility of using modern drug-design techniques to
produce new pharmaceuticals."

Prof Stuart was speaking in Boston at the annual meeting for the American
Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)
.

Diamond is sited on the Harwell
science campus just south of Oxford
Diamond has been working for some time to get its "Crystal Lab" ready for
Level 3 work, and the Oxford researcher used the US conference to announce that
the preparation was now complete.

Synchrotrons work by accelerating electrons in a giant magnetic ring to near
light-speeds.

As the particles turn around the circle, they lose energy in the form of
exceptionally intense X-rays.

This light is channelled down "beamlines" where it hits targets put in its
path.

The way the X-rays scatter off the atoms in these targets reveals their
arrangement. This allows scientists to glimpse the shape of virus and bacteria
components and get some insight into how they function.

Diamond has already been studying pathogens at lower levels of containment.


A good recent example, says Prof Stuart, is the Human Enterovirus 71 (EV71)
that causes hand-foot-and-mouth disease.

The infection is relatively common in infants and children, especially across
the Asia-Pacific region, and is characterised by fever, painful sores in the
mouth, and unpleasant blisters on the hands, feet and buttocks. There is
currently no vaccine or anti-viral treatment available.

A joint UK and Chinese team working at Diamond solved the structure of EV71
last year.

This allowed the researchers to see a kind of breathing motion in the virus
that it uses to initiate the infection process. Evident also was the small
molecule it picks up from the body's cells to shift itself from one state to
another.

The Crystal Lab uses
robots
"That molecule must be lost to cause an infection, but now that we can see in
atomic detail what that molecule looks like, we can try to design a synthetic
version that will attach more strongly," Prof Stuart told BBC News.

"That would stop the breathing and stop the infection process."

The British synchrotron's new status makes it now one of only two such
facilities in the world where Level 3 study is undertaken; the other being in
the US.

This means it will be a major draw for scientists across the world.

Prof Stuart stressed the operations at Diamond would pose no risk to others
working on the Harwell site or in the immediate Oxfordshire area.

The pathogens will be brought to the synchrotron in crystal form in
double-sealed containers that are not opened during their time at the
facility.

They are manipulated robotically inside the Light Source and, what is more,
they are destroyed in the very act of shining X-rays on them.

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Re: Diamond to shine light on infections

Post  Panda on Mon 18 Feb - 8:06

The British synchrotron's new status makes it now one of only two such
facilities in the world where Level 3 study is undertaken; the other being in
the US."
Something to be proud of for once.

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