Giant leap in molecular imaging

La Trobe University scientists have used the world’s most powerful X-ray laser to help capture ultra fast images of molecular structure – demonstrating data collection frequencies of more than a million shots per second are now possible.

Dr Brian Abbey and Professor Keith Nugent from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Advanced Molecular Imaging at La Trobe collaborated with DESY (Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron) and CFEL (Center for Free-Electron Laser Science  in  Germany, on the first ever megahertz crystallography experiments. The collaboration involved more than 120 scientists based at 35 different universities located all over the world.

Using the world’s most powerful X-ray laser at the European XFEL facility Hamburg, that generates up to 27,000 X-ray shots per second in short bursts of over 1 megahertz (equivalent to one million shots per second), the scientists were able to construct 3D models of biomolecules.

Their findings, published by the prestigious journal Nature Communications, could lead to a better understanding of diseases and aid in the development of new drugs.

“This is a giant leap forward for molecular imaging and the result of one of the largest international collaborations in X-ray science,” Dr Abbey said.

“Before the Euro XFEL opened last September, the best that was possible at X-ray lasers was 120 images per second.

“Being able to collect more than 200 times more images per second than before will be a massive boost to researchers trying to create real-time molecular movies. Actually seeing molecules in motion provides us with new insights into how they function and has enormous potential benefits for many areas of science.”

Professor Nugent said La Trobe was the only Australian university to be involved in the experiments.

“It’s been an enormous privilege to have been among the very first scientists in the world to have access to Euro XFEL’s cutting-edge technology,” Professor Nugent said.

“It’s exciting for our team to work alongside the world’s best molecular scientists, as well as a number of our students who are now based at Euro XFEL.

“This is innovative science and arguably the biggest science project in the world right now.

“La Trobe’s involvement has helped cement Australia’s reputation as a major science player.”

Media contact - Anastasia Salamastrakis 0428 195 464