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PETRA IV and future opportunities at EMBL Hamburg beamlines

EMBL joined a kick-off event focusing on future plans to upgrade the PETRA III synchrotron storage ring to PETRA IV

Photo of the speakers during the panel discussion. Edith Heard is talking. In front of the panel, there is the audience seen from the back, and behind the panel there are banners with the DESY PETAR IV logos and a slide displaying the names of the panellists.
The life science panel during the PETRA IV Campaign kick-off event. Credit: DESY, Daniel Reinhardt

Structural biologists from EMBL Hamburg and visiting researchers from institutes across EMBL member states conduct X-ray experiments at the EMBL beamlines located at PETRA III, the synchrotron storage ring operated by the Deutsche Elektronen-Synchrotron (DESY). DESY plans to upgrade PETRA III to the latest accelerator technology – PETRA IV – and with that, to an extremely powerful 3D X-ray microscope for chemical and physical processes.

On 13 September 2022, EMBL participated in the PETRA IV campaign kick-off and roundtable talks: ‘Science in focus: PETRA IV – New Dimensions in Research and Applications’. The participants discussed how PETRA IV could advance research and innovation. They highlighted that PETRA IV would contribute to the democratisation of scientific services as its research facilities would be more accessible to non-expert users.

During a panel discussion, EMBL Director General Edith Heard, and Meytal Landau, a group leader associated with EMBL, DESY, CSSB, and Technion in Israel, and other panellists discussed the new opportunities that PETRA IV could create for life sciences, including for research within the new transversal themes at EMBL. The event concluded with an evening reception hosted by Senator Katharina Fegebank in the Hamburg City Hall.

High-intensity X-rays from particle accelerators such as PETRA III already function as a powerful research tool for molecular biology. So far, the biological focus has been on macromolecular crystallography and small-angle X-ray scattering (SAXS). These techniques make it possible to unravel the structure of protein molecules down to the atomic level – important information for understanding how an enzyme works, for example. With PETRA IV, it will be possible to observe how proteins work with even better time resolution. It will also help scientists understand how proteins function under different environmental conditions and increase the throughput of SAXS. The upgrade will also allow more academic and industry users to access EMBL’s structural biology services.

As highlighted by Edith Heard during the panel discussion, DESY’s plans align with the goals of the current EMBL Programme Molecules to Ecosystems 2022-2026. The central goal of the programme is to study life in context: from atoms and molecules to tissues, organisms, and ecosystems. EMBL beamlines will play an important role in several themes of the programme, including transversal themes such as Planetary BiologyInfection Biology, and Microbial Ecosystems.

A new technique that will play an important role in EMBL Hamburg’s future portfolio is X-ray imaging. In this approach, hard X-rays are used to study tissues or even entire organisms, rather than individual molecules. EMBL Hamburg Team Leader Liz Duke is working on establishing biological X-ray imaging at EMBL Hamburg, with the development of innovative methods already contributing to various projects, including the studies on the model organism Platynereis dumerilii conducted by the Arendt Group at EMBL Heidelberg.

EMBL Hamburg will continue developing towards becoming a ‘one-stop shop’ providing services ranging from sample preparation to data collection at its beamlines, as well as data analysis and depositing FAIR data, in close collaboration with EMBL’s European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI). The development plans also include more training opportunities for users and expansion of its collaboration with industry.


Tags: desy, duke, embl programme, event, hamburg, PETRA IV, structural biology, x-ray imaging

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