Find out more about what we achieved in 2013.
Better Treatments for Disease
One of our biggest stories of 2013 saw a team of scientists from Heptares Therapeutics solve the structure of CRF1,a protein receptor in the brain which controls our response to stress. The team used Diamond to solve the structure, which is the first in an important family of protein receptors. This new discovery paves the way for a transformation in drug treatments for depression, diabetes and osteoporosis.
But it’s not just human health that Diamond is helping to improve. Foot-and-mouth disease (FMDV) is a plague of livestock that is endemic throughout much of the world, costs $5 billion a year, and causes much suffering in poor countries. But in 2013, scientists collaborating across various UK institutions used Diamond to develop a new methodology for producing a vaccine which is safer, less fragile and easier to transport. There’s still a long way to go before the vaccine reaches the market, but the signs from early clinical trials are very promising. And the methodology may well transfer to other, similar viruses that affect humans, such as polio, meaning that it could provide a potent new tool in global disease control.
A Cleaner Planet
The search for sustainable energy is one of the most pressing scientific needs of our time, and scientists are racing to find a cleaner alternative to fossil fuels. In 2013, a team of researchers used Diamond to potentially locate a novel source of sustainable and environmentally-friendly fuel.
The wood-eating gribble is a type of tiny crustacean that lives in the sea, and nests in shipwrecks and driftwood. Their favourite snack is wood, and they’re notorious for munching away on boats and destroying seaside piers. Inside the gribble, there is a special enzyme that helps the creature digest its woody meals.
Using biochemical analysis and X-ray imaging, the team were able to pinpoint the enzyme, determine its structure, and watch it in action as it digested wood. This enzyme may provide a new way of converting biomass such as wood, paper and straw into liquid fuel. So the little gribble should be proud; this humble water bug could help to transform our world and herald a new cleaner, greener dawn.
Discovering More About Mars
We now know more about the red planet than ever before. Satellites, spacecrafts and rovers have all set off for our planetary neighbour in search of data on its physical nature; but we’re still not sure what exactly Mars is made of. We have many complete libraries and databases of all of Earth’s strata. But no such reference for Martian rocks yet exists, meaning that the alien rocks remain something of a mystery to Earthling scientists.
This year, researchers have been using Diamond to scrutinise samples of Martian rocks. Their ultimate aim is to chronicle every type of rock and mineral found on Mars, creating a vital reference source for planetary scientists of the future. The Martian library is emblematic of how far planetary science has come and how far it has yet to go, but each day and night at the synchrotron brings us closer to uncovering the secrets of our solar system.