NSF funds $25 million center for X-ray bioimaging

The first high-resolution diffraction pattern results from the X-ray free electron laser at LCLS in February 2011
The first high-resolution diffraction pattern results from the X-ray free-electron laser at LCLS in February 2011. Click on the image to see a larger version of it. Photo credit: NSF BioXFEL Science and Technology Center

The University of Buffalo won a prestigious science and technology center grant conferred every four years by the National Science Foundation for the establishment of innovative and interdisciplinary research centers across the country. This $25 million grant will go toward launching the Center for Biology with X-ray Laser, or BioXFEL, which will focus on developing new bioimaging techniques using the immensely powerful X-ray free electron laser technology.
Researchers affiliated with the BioXFEL center anticipate new breakthroughs in the field of biomolecular crystallography using this kind of X-ray beam, originally developed at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory at Stanford University.
“With this (technology), the center will provide the biology research community with tools to study an enormous number of biological systems that are currently inaccessible by current X-ray methods,” says NSF Chemistry of Life Processes Program Manager David Rockcliffe. “Once the center develops the measurement tools to fully utilize the XFEL source, the scientific payoffs are expected to be extraordinary.”
The use of XFEL technology could enable scientists to develop advanced forms of X-ray bioimaging, including the serial femtosecond crystallography method for the characterization of biological structures. This particular technique, with its ability to predict the structure and motion of extremely small and previously uncrystallizable molecules, could provide structural biologists with a valuable tool to analyze accurately biological function of proteins and their dysregulation in disease. Such research would boost current methods employed to identify molecular targets for drug development and improve the current understanding of drug design.
The University at Buffalo and Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute will host this center in partnership with Arizona State University; the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee; Cornell University; Rice University; Stanford University; the University of California, San Francisco; and UC, Davis.
Eaton E. Lattman, a professor in Buffalo’s structural biology department and medical school and chief executive officer of the Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute, will be director of the BioXFEL center.
For more information on this center and its research, visit www.bioxfel.org.

Aditi IyengarAditi Iyengar (iyengar@chgr.mgh.harvard.edu) is a postdoctoral fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital.