University of Dundee

Wellcome Trust Grant to help collaboration to further knowledge of biochemistry

26 Jul 2012

Scientists from the Universities of Dundee and St Andrews have been awarded £580,000 for leading-edge equipment to further their investigations into biochemical processes that play a role in all human disease states.

The collaboration received a Wellcome Trust Biomedical Research & Multi-User Equipment Grant to allow them to purchase state of the art electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR) instrumentation. Pulsed EPR spectroscopy is a relatively new and underdeveloped method of examining macromolecules, such as nucleic acids, proteins, carbohydrates, and lipids.

It allows for the investigation of the structure and interactions of these biological molecules, furthering the knowledge of how normal processes in the body work and how they can break down in diseases.

The Dundee-St Andrews team has been using pulsed EPR spectroscopy for the last seven years, and have made important contributions to the development of the technique in that time. In awarding the grant, the funding committee acknowledged that the collaboration represented one of the world’s leading centres in the application of this technology to structural biology.

The grant will allow them to take advantage of technical advances to improve throughput and investigate biological systems currently inaccessible or unfeasible, enhancing basic understanding of structural biology.

The funding application was led by Dr David Norman, from the College of Life Sciences at Dundee. He says it builds on the success of a unique cross-institutional collaboration at the cutting edge of biostructural/biophysical science.

“For me, what is most exciting is the number of world class scientists from Dundee and St Andrews who will benefit from the biochemical knowledge this upgrade will allow us to obtain” he said.

“Pulsed EPR spectroscopy is an exciting technique, and this grant will allow us to purchase the latest equipment and capitalise on technological breakthroughs. We will be looking at proteins and other macromolecules to observe how they interact with each other, and with other components within the cell.

“This equipment will enable us to enhance our understanding of how biochemistry works, at a very fundamental level. We will be helping other scientists to learn about the impacts and causes of a huge range of diseases as we will be able to learn more about the interaction of proteins, DNA and RNA, and all disease states are impacted upon by at least one of these three.”

The technology used in EPR is similar to that used in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) but in this case measures the distance between chemical markers within large molecules, which helps to relate biological function to the underlying atomic structure.

The facility will be physically based in St. Andrews but will be used by researchers from Dundee, St Andrews and further afield. As well as contributing to salary costs, the grant will pay for the purchase of a high power Q-band EPR system, a pressure jump addition to the spectrometer, and a cooling system that will reduce the need to use high volumes of liquid helium, an expensive, unreliable, and finite resource.

Dr Graham Smith from St Andrews, who will run the facility, said, “The suite of EPR systems that will now be available at St. Andrews and Dundee really represents a world leading capability, and one that will open many new opportunities for biomolecular scientists in Scotland and beyond.”

Dr Michael Dunn, Head of Molecular and Physiological Sciences at the Wellcome Trust, said, “The Dundee-St Andrews partnership has, in a relatively short time, developed into one of the world’s leading groups in an important and growing area of research. These new facilities will without doubt extend and enhance their activities in structural biology, offering exciting opportunities for new research.”