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UK Contributes $9M to European XFEL Crystallography Facility

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – Three UK science funding agencies have jointly contributed £5.6 million ($9.4 million) toward the European X-ray Free Electron Lasers (XFEL) project, a facility currently under construction in Hamburg, Germany that will provide scientists with access to advanced crystallography technology.

The UK's Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, the Medical Research Council, and the Wellcome Trust jointly provided the investment, which will ensure that UK researchers can use serial femtosecond crystallography (SFX) to study the three-dimensional shape of biomolecules "at high resolution and incredible speeds," BBSRC said on Tuesday.
BBSRC said a hub will be established to train scientists in SFX techniques at the Diamond Light Source facility in Oxfordshire.

The European XFEL facility, the main components of which will be located in underground tunnels and will be three kilometers long, is expected to be running by 2017, according to the XFEL website. It will include a particle accelerator to create the X-rays that will bring bunches of electrons to nearly the speed of light, and those electrons will emit X-rays that will be amplified to create short and intense blasts of X-ray flashes that have the properties of laser light. This technology will enable structural biologists to "work at finer resolutions and faster speeds than ever before," BBSRC said.

"The incredible power of the European XFEL will allow researchers to look at the smallest building blocks of life in new detail, from 'filming' biochemical reactions to studying drug targets of the future," Michael Dunn, head of genetics and molecular science at the Wellcome Trust, said in a statement.

"Structural biology has been the basis for some of the most exciting developments in biomedical science, and investing in new technology is a vital part of the field's continuing success."

The three funding agencies will provide the £5.6 million over a five-year period.