Supporting scientists across Europe: the SPC Facility at EMBL Hamburg
EMBL Hamburg’s Sample Preparation and Characterisation (SPC) Facility offers world-class services in biophysics – from sample preparation to data analysis
Life is driven by the interactions between biological macromolecules, such as proteins, lipids, and nucleic acids. Determining how often, fast, and strongly these interactions happen is key to understanding how cells work on a molecular level. This is where biophysics comes into play.
EMBL Hamburg’s Sample Preparation and Characterisation (SPC) Facility offers scientists access to almost all available biophysics technologies. With the help and advice of the expert staff, users can perform precise measurements and data analysis.
Located at the Centre for Structural Systems Biology (CSSB), the facility is just a few meters away from the EMBL beamlines for crystallography and SAXS, and the CSSB’s cryo-EM facility. Being able to prepare samples and conduct X-ray or cryo-EM experiments during a single visit gives the users the flexibility to quickly adjust their sample preparation protocol for their measurements.
Users can also send their samples to EMBL Hamburg to use the SPC Facility and the EMBL beamlines remotely.
María García Alai, the Head of EMBL’s SPC Facility, emphasises providing reliable and excellent quality data. The facility staff ensure that all instruments are perfectly calibrated, and the sample preparation process is tailored to the needs of each user.
Besides helping users conduct measurements, the SPC Facility provides support in analysing data. In 2021, they released the eSPC platform, where users can analyse data from biophysics experiments, for free and from home.
The SPC Facility is part of several European transnational access programs, such as iNEXT-Discovery, Instruct-ERIC, and MOSBRI, which facilitate scientists’ access to research infrastructures. The facility welcomes users from different backgrounds and disciplines, and also offers training in cutting-edge biophysics techniques.
From crystallisation screens to mass photometry
Mary Spiliopoulou from the University of Patras in Greece sent her samples to the SPC Facility for a crystallisation screen. The facility’s automated platform for high-throughput crystallisation allowed her to obtain crystals for an X-ray experiment at the EMBL beamline P13.
“I used the knowledge of the SPC Facility staff and then the diffraction experiments were very easy,” said Spiliopoulou.
Katharina Weinhäupl from the University of Porto in Portugal used the SPC Facility several times, remotely and in person, to prepare her samples for a cryo-EM experiment. Among other techniques, she found the detergent screen particularly helpful.
“What made a difference for me is that you can use the SPC Facility remotely,” said Weinhäupl. “You just send your samples, and you will get your results very fast.”
Jacek Plewka from the Jagiellonian University in Poland came to the SPC Facility to conduct mass photometry experiments for his work on SARS-CoV-2. This new technique enabled him to directly detect the interaction between two viral proteins at very low concentrations, in near-physiological conditions. Later, he analysed the data using the eSPC platform.
“If it weren’t for the SPC, we would not be able to do some of the measurements because the equipment would be extremely expensive for us,” said Plewka.