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16 June 2022

New microscope allows researchers to study molecules at the level of individual atoms

King’s has been awarded £1 million to purchase the next-generation cryo-electron microscope, which promises to enhance research across the University

Electron microscope

Led by Dr Julien Bergeron and with instrumental contributions from Dr Joe Atherton and Professors Roberto Steiner, Franca Fraternali and Mathias Gautel; a team from King’s and Queen Mary University of London have been awarded a £1M grant from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) to purchase the microscope.

Over the past decade cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) has emerged as the main method for structural biology - the study of biological molecules at the atomic level. This grant will allow for vast expansion of cryo-EM use at King’s, not just to a few specialized groups but to the wider community interested in studying biological processes at the molecular level.

This grant is the culmination of the work from a lot of people, to bring cryo-Electron Microscopy to King’s. It ensures that we maintain our cutting edge in structural biology, and maintain the legacy of Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins.”

Dr Julien Bergeron

In 2018 King’s, together with Imperial College, Queen Mary and the Institute of Cancer Research, established the LonCEM, a central facility housing a state-of-the-art microscope based at the Francis Crick Institute. However, this facility is dedicated to high-throughput data collection and King’s was limited by its lack of an in-house microscope for routine analyses. The new microscope will allow for optimization of difficult samples and, critically, will allow researchers to train students and early career researchers on using these instruments.

Introducing a new technique to non-specialist research labs, the microscope will be used to study cardiac myopathy, anticancer drug delivery, muscle contraction, HIV and SARS-CoV-2 infection, dental plaque formation, neuropathologies, and much more. The successful grant application had 24 co-investigators from 3 faculties, illustrating the wide appeal of the technique. Many ongoing projects at King’s, across Medicine, Dentistry and Chemistry, will see immediate benefits from the purchase of the microscope.

King’s will be hosting a half day event to showcase the use of cryo-EM for macromolecule structure determination on 30 June from 12:30 – 18:00. Technical presentations will discuss advanced and emerging sample preparation, data acquisition and image processing techniques in electron microscopy of cellular and tissue components, including their optimal use in the development of research projects. Register to attend the event.

In this story

Julien Bergeron

Senior Lecturer

Mathias Gautel

Professor of Molecular Cardiology

Roberto Steiner

Professor of Biomolecular Structure

Franca Fraternali

Visiting Professor in Bioinformatics & Computational Biology