MicroMAX, a new beamline for life science

MicroMAX, a new beamline for life science

The Novo Nordisk Foundation has generously decided to fund the construction and operation of a new beamline at the MAX IV Laboratory called MicroMAX with 255 million DKK.

MicroMAX has been proposed by the Swedish and Danish research community and will depend on close collaboration with user groups in developing the methods that will be used at MicroMAX. The group of Professor Richard Neutze at the University of Gothenburg has pioneered the research in this area.

– Looking back, I note that in November 2006 MicroMAX was priority #2 in the Swedish Research Council evaluation of the proposal to construct MAX IV Laboratory, says Richard Neutze. Now we have a construction and build-up of the beamline also stretching more than a decade. For the MAX IV project as a whole this is a hugely important decision, to get this level of support from a Danish Foundation. I believe that MicroMAX will be one of the major flagship projects for MAX IV Laboratory. Now we just have to build it, operate it and do some great science…. the fun bit!

MicroMAX will open up new opportunities to study life on a molecular level. Understanding how proteins and other molecules functions is achieved through studying their structure and how they interact with each other. MicroMAX will help in answering these questions leading to new insights that can help develop new medicines or for example to study enzymes of interest for energy research and biotechnology.

MicroMAX will be revolutionary in the areas of membrane proteins and molecular complexes where it is often only possible to obtain very small crystals that have been too small to allow structural studies. The importance is illustrated by the fact that membrane proteins represent some of the largest classes of drug targets.

Professor Guillermo Montoya, Research Director for the Protein Structure and Function Program at the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Protein Research in Copenhagen whose Cryo-EM Centre was recently inaugurated comments:

– We are involved in challenging projects that address the structure of multisubunit and protein-DNA complexes. Usually our crystals do not diffract to resolutions where model building can be performed comfortably. The samples that will be measured at MicroMAX and the serial crystallography approach in that beamline will allow us to address these challenging projects, we are looking forward to measure at MicroMAX!

MicroMAX is relying on the unique performance of the MAX IV 3 GeV storage ring and a unique and flexible beamline design to provide new tools to study the most challenging scientific questions in structural biology using crystallography. MicroMAX will allow crystals a millionth of a meter to be studied with a new method called serial crystallography. By using thousands of microcrystals, it is possible to circumvent radiation damage that would prevent such small samples to be studied using normal crystallography. MicroMAX will also make it possible to study reactions as they happen in these crystals.

– It is fantastic that MicroMAX will be a reality in the near future, says Pernille Harris, Assoc. Professor at the Technical University of Denmark. One example where MicroMAX will be of particular importance is for our research in metalloproteins. Metalloprotein crystals are easily destroyed in the beam, and the opportunity to perform serial crystallography at MicroMAX is instrumental for this research field where we can obtain important structures before destroying the protein. MicroMAX will be a world leading beamline and yet another strong opportunity in the good collaboration we already have with researchers at MAX IV.

This is made possible by an X-ray beam up to ten thousand times more powerful than at BioMAX, the first protein crystallography beamline at the MAX IV Laboratory, and 100 million times more powerful than at the old MAX-lab.

There is a longstanding collaboration on protein crystallography facilities between researchers in Sweden and Denmark starting with the protein crystallography beamlines at the old MAX-lab.

Professor Poul Nissen, Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics at Aarhus University and director of the Danish node DANDRITE of the Nordic-EMBL Partnership for Molecular Medicine, shares the anticipation:

– Most of our projects represent difficult targets such as mammalian membrane proteins that are difficult to obtain and that will often produce only microcrystals – these may however diffract to high resolution and support structural characterization if a microfocus X-ray beam can be used. MicroMAX will be the world-leading beamline for such studies and will become a magnet for cutting-edge research. We can hardly wait!

The MicroMAX project has been developed over many years and a ready design already exists. We will now immediately start with the final design work. The construction phase is planned to last four years so towards the end of 2021 we expect to have first visits by scientists for test experiments.