Find out more about our ambitious upgrade project, delivering more brightness, more coherence, and greater speed of analysis to UK science. More about Diamond-II
Find out more about Diamond's response to virus research.
Find out more about GCRF-START
A focus of UNESCO’s International Year of Basic Sciences for Sustainable Development is ‘enhancing inclusive participation in science’. Diamond Light Source was a key partner in START, a collaborative project that sought to foster the development of Synchrotron Techniques for African Research and Technology (START), which ran from 2018 to 2021 with a £3.7 M grant from the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) provided by the UK’s Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC). Today on World Science Day for Peace and Development, we are highlighting health and energy research enabled by START.
Diamond played a pivotal role in the project, providing African scientists with crucial access to world class synchrotron techniques, beamtime, training and mentoring. Research focused on structural biology and energy materials to address key United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals for health (SDG 3), energy (SDG 7), climate (SDG 13), and life-long learning (SDG 4).
Catalysis is essential for the development of a sustainable world and was a focus of the energy materials arm of the grant, along with solar energy, which is a well-recognised sustainable energy solution. These are just two areas in the physical sciences that were investigated as part of START.
Catalysis has many applications in renewable energy, where waste biomass is converted to liquid biofuels, or waste CO2 is converted to high value chemicals that can be used in our daily life, or as an alternative to fossil fuels. These applications rely on catalysts but to make this process more sustainable and efficient, advanced techniques are required to understand how the catalysts work under operating conditions. A group of START collaborators used Diamond to understand more about catalyst materials. They were investigating furfural, a bio-derived molecule that can be converted to many useful products that can be used for renewable energy. However, bio-derived compounds are highly functionalised – many parts of the molecular structure can undergo chemical change. Palladium (Pd) nanoparticles are widely used as an active component in furfural hydrogenation – a specific type of reaction that involves the addition of hydrogen to a compound – however, selectivity to specific products is a big challenge. Using X-ray absorption spectroscopy at Diamond, the team demonstrated that a Pd/NiO catalyst can hydrogenate furfural using a dual site process. This work has significant implications for the upgrading of bioderived feedstocks, suggesting alternative ways for promoting selective transformations and reducing the reliance on precious metals.
Campisi S. et al. Dual-Site-Mediated Hydrogenation Catalysis on Pd/NiO: Selective Biomass Transformation and Maintenance of Catalytic Activity at Low Pd Loading. ACS Catal. (April 2020). DOI: 10.1021/acscatal.0c00414
In response to the demand on the world’s classical energy resources, Egypt is investing a lot of money in massive solar farms. An Egypt-based START collaborator’s research is focused on the microstructure of Organic Solar Cells (OSC), with a view to improve their performance for energy production. They used Diamond to examine the microstructure of the OSC during evaporation. This involved evaporating the materials which make up the OSC onto a device surface (substrate) under X-ray illumination, allowing X-ray diffraction images to be collected ‘in situ’ as the materials are deposited. They were able to observe how the molecules change in their molecular packing (microstructure) over time as they land on the substrate microstructure, as well as response to changes in environmental factors. If the efficiency of OSC’s is improved through the research being conducted, then countries like Egypt might invest in more new Solar farms. In addition, since the OSC’s can be made semi-transparent and flexible, they can be installed on the glass on buildings in crowded cities like Cairo.
Abdelaal M. et al. Studying the effect of high substrate temperature on the microstructure of vacuum evaporated TAPC: C60 organic solar thin films. Materials (April 2021). DOI: 10.3390/ma14071733
Working on experiments at Diamond, START researchers and students have brought insights to improvement in health that will have long-lasting legacies across Africa. Following the conclusion of the grant, work continues in partnership with the many universities and scientists we helped, building on the success of the START project. These achievements are demonstrated by recently published scientific papers on health research that was enabled by the START partnerships built between world leading scientists in Africa and the UK.
The global HIV/AIDS epidemic still currently affects approximately 38 million individuals globally. Researchers from the University of Witwatersrand are investigating clinical failure of a major drug target in HIV/AIDS antiviral therapy. They used Diamond to determine the crystal structure of a mutant enzyme that appears to be a cause of reduced inhibitor susceptibility. Their study revealed that the location of the mutations and their effect on a key mechanism may be crucial in their role in drug resistance.
Sherry D. et al. Non-active site mutations in the HIV protease: Diminished drug binding affinity is achieved through modulating the hydrophobic sliding mechanism. International Journal Of Biological Macromolecules (Sep 2022). DOI: 10.1016/j.ijbiomac.2022.07.033
Schistosomiasis is an infection caused by parasitic flatworms and is the most severe water-borne disease in the tropics and subtropics, infecting more than 252 million people worldwide. Reduced efficacy of Praziquantel, the gold standard of treatment against the disease, and associated reports of drug resistance have diminished confidence in the drug, prompting efforts toward developing alternative or improved forms of medication. Researchers from the Universities of Johannesburg and Cape Town used Diamond to study a stress protein that has been identified as a potential ‘lead’ molecule. Further research aims to improve the model and use it for structure-based drug design for a potential new medication against the infection, which can lead to organ damage if left untreated.
Masamba P. et al. Crystallization and preliminary structural determination of the universal stress G4LZI3 protein from Schistosoma mansoni. Informatics In Medicine Unlocked (Aug 2022). DOI: 10.1016/j.imu.2022.101057
Although efficacious vaccines have significantly reduced the morbidity and mortality of COVID-19, there remains an unmet medical need for treatment options, which monoclonal antibodies can potentially fill. This unmet need is exacerbated by the emergence and spread of SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern that have shown some resistance to vaccine responses. An international team of scientists used Diamond to study a set of monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) from an Indian convalescent donor. Two of these mAbs showed potent neutralisation of SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern, including the Delta variant. Developing the capacity to rapidly discover and develop antibodies effective against highly transmissible pathogens like coronaviruses at a local level, especially in a low- and middle-income country such as India, will enable prompt responses to future pandemics as an important component of global pandemic preparedness.
Hingankar N. et al. A combination of potently neutralizing monoclonal antibodies isolated from an Indian convalescent donor protects against the SARS-CoV-2 Delta variant. Plos Pathogens (Apr 2022). DOI: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1010465
Diamond Light Source is the UK's national synchrotron science facility, located at the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire.
Copyright © 2022 Diamond Light Source
Diamond Light Source Ltd
Harwell Science & Innovation Campus
Diamond Light Source® and the Diamond logo are registered trademarks of Diamond Light Source Ltd
Registered in England and Wales at Diamond House, Harwell Science and Innovation Campus, Didcot, Oxfordshire, OX11 0DE, United Kingdom. Company number: 4375679. VAT number: 287 461 957. Economic Operators Registration and Identification (EORI) number: GB287461957003.