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School of Biological and Behavioural Sciences

Queen Mary University of London part of £3m consortium for structural biology

A new £3m grant from Wellcome Trust to a consortium involving scientists from Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) will help to set up a new facility for cryo-electron microscopy – a technology that is revolutionising biology.


Cryo-electron microscopy (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.

It is a technique that lets scientists see biological molecules in their native state, and allows complex molecules, such as proteins, to be imaged at an extremely high resolution, enabling researchers to determine their structure and work out their mechanism of action.

The facility will be situated at the Francis Crick Instituteand is led by Imperial College London researchers, alongside colleagues from QMUL, The Institute of Cancer Research and King’s College London.

Revolutionising biology

Professor Bill Spence, Vice-Principal for Research at QMUL, said: “High-resolution cryo-electron microscopy offers critical capacity for our researchers, particularly in structural biology where transformative work is occurring including in understanding RNA polymerases, Alzheimer’s disease, and bacterial secretion systems.

“It is also a strategically opportune time coinciding with a new venture in the life sciences at Queen Mary University of London.”

Richard Pickersgill, Professor of Structural Biology at QMUL’s School of Biological and Chemical Sciences and a co-applicant on this proposal, said: “Cryo-EM has revolutionised our understanding of molecular machines in health and disease and this provision is essential for our international competitiveness in fundamental and translational biological and biomedical research.”

The new instrument, which is the latest cryo-EM technology, will arrive at the Crick within the year and is expected to be operational in early 2018. The microscope will be part of a larger cryo-EM facility at Crick and will facilitate further interactions between the consortium institutions and Crick researchers.

Professor Xiaodong Zhang, the lead Principal Investigator for the new facility, from the Department of Medicine at Imperial, said: “Cryo-electron microscopy is becoming the leading technique in structural biology and is opening up exciting new opportunities for research and industry. To have rapid local access to this new technology is absolutely key for our research and discovery as well as for maintaining our international competitiveness.”

The grant is part of a £20m investment by Wellcome in cryo microscopy equipment to support world-leading structural biologists across the UK.

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