We’re investing £20m in cutting-edge cryo microscopy

We’ve awarded £20 million for cryo-electron microscopy equipment to support world-leading structural biologists across the UK.

Cryo electron microscopy of a bacterial pore-forming toxin.

Credit: Helen Saibil, Wellcome Images

A bacterial pore-forming toxin captured by cryo-electron microscopy. The dark blue ring is the protein which attacks host membranes.

Cryo-EM is transforming areas of science essential for improving health, from seeing how drugs get into cells or visualising the atomic structure of a virus to aid vaccine development. This funding will allow scientists to address important biomedical questions that were simply unanswerable a few years ago.

The funded research groups are:

  • Professor Gideon Davies, University of York
  • Professor Philip Ingham as part of the South West Consortium, which includes users from the universities of Exeter, Bristol, Bath and Cardiff 
  • Professor Ben Luisi, University of Cambridge
  • Professor Helen Saibil, Birkbeck, University of London
  • Professor Xiaodong Zhang as part of the London Consortium, which includes users from Imperial College London, the Institute of Cancer Research, Queen Mary University of London and King's College London.

Two awards were also made to the electron BioImaging Centre at Diamond Light Source, Oxfordshire.

Cryo-EM is a form of microscopy used by structural biologists to study samples in extremely cold (cryogenic) conditions. By flash-freezing a sample in liquid ethane, biological molecules can be seen in their native states – or how they exist within a cell.

Many other techniques for structure determination require samples to be turned into crystals, something that is difficult or often impossible to do.

"Cryo-EM is at the forefront of structural biology research, having undergone something of a resolution revolution in recent years. We’re able to solve more and more structures at the atomic level, which has a real impact on all areas of the life sciences," says Dr Tom Collins, from our Genetics and Molecular Sciences team.

"By funding a variety of high-end and intermediate equipment we are seeking to strengthen the UK’s capability to undertake world-leading science."