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Prof. Ian Robinson, who holds a joint appointment with University College London (UCL) and Diamond Light Source, has been awarded funding by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) for a 5-year BBSRC ‘Diamond Fellowship'.
The fellowship will be located at the new Research Complex at Harwell (RCaH), which sits adjacent to the Diamond synchrotron. With the fellowship Prof. Robinson will establish a group in the RCaH to work on the structure of the chromosome using X-ray diffraction methods.
"I am delighted to receive the fellowship because it will give me an important goal for which to develop the technology needed for imaging biological materials with X-rays. It will allow me to develop my measurement and analysis methods further and capitalise on Diamond's investment in the I13 beamline. The chromosome is an appealing goal because there is a giant gap in our knowledge of its structure, between what can be seen by visible-light microscopy and by electron microscopy of its components. I am proud to be accepted as a founding researcher in the new RCaH. I believe strongly in the 'research hotel' mode of access to our national facilities, whereby each piece of specialised equipment can be shared by researchers across the country."
Prof. Robinson, Diamond Light Source/University College London
Prof. Christoph Rau, Principal Beamline Scientist for I13, Diamond's X-ray imaging and coherence beamline, says: "I am very pleased that Prof. Robinson has been awarded this fellowship and look forward to further collaborations with him and his team."
This is the second BBSRC 'Diamond Fellowship' to be awarded, the first going to Prof. So Iwata of Imperial College London and the Membrane Protein Laboratory, which is based at Diamond. Prof. Iwata is using the BBSRC Fellowship funding to set up a new laboratory at the RCaH where he and his team will prepare membrane proteins for analysis at the Diamond synchrotron.
During the process of mitosis, the cell separates the chromosomes in the nucleus into two identical sets, in preparation for cell division. There are several phases during mitosis, and it is precisely in this process that the behaviour of the chromosome structure on the intermediate nanoscale, which has so far been difficult to study experimentally, becomes of key importance to the safe transmission of all the genetic material to progeny cells.
Using coherent X-ray diffraction, a technique that will be available with the operation of future beamline I13 at Diamond, the structure of a material can be obtained using a computational algorithm, as opposed to a lens, as with light microscopy methods. Using this new technique eliminates the so-called ‘phase problem' that leads to uncertainties in extracting structural information from traditional X-ray diffraction techniques.
Figure 1. Left: : ribbon diagram of the structure of the nucleosome. Right: model of the 30mn chromatin fibre obtained by cryo-electron microscopy [from D. Rhodes et al, PNAS 103 6506-6511 (2006)].
It is within this intermediate level of structure of the so-called metaphase, one of five phases of mitosis, where the organization becomes complicated (see Fig. 1). To protect the genes in transit though mitosis, they are packed together tightly into the familiar X-shaped chromosome pairs that separate once the cell division begins. The 30nm fibres are presumably coiled up in a regular superstructure at the next level within the chromatids; this coiling is the structure that Prof. Robinson and his colleagues intend to image by the new coherent X-ray methods.
Diamond Light Source is the UK's national synchrotron science facility, located at the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire.
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