At a Royal Society awards ceremony celebrating the prestigious new European Commission-approved status for structural biology Instruct Research Infrastructure, the UK Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation Jo Johnson recognised the value and relevance of collaborative work between the UK and European scientists.
Instruct is a pan-European partnership giving researchers vital access to advanced instrumentation and training in structural biology. The equipment is typically very expensive and requires specific technical experience. Technology and infrastructure are at the heart of the revolution to connect atomic resolution of molecular structures with functionality at the cellular level, and technical advances are constantly pushing the science forward.
The new legal status for Instruct transforms it into a European Research Infrastructure Consortium (ERIC), joining 16 others across Europe. As the second UK-hosted ERIC, Instruct will provide the European structural biology community with continued access to high-quality, stable and sustainable services.
Over the past four decades, European researchers have played a pivotal role in developing increasingly sophisticated technologies including super-powerful cryo-electron microscopes (cryo-EM). Instruct has been supported since its inception by the Medical Research Council, on behalf of the UK as the host country.
Instruct provides access to some of the most sophisticated methods that allow researchers to generate images of molecules at near-atomic level, in far greater detail than was previously possible. This allows them to understand how the molecular machines in our bodies work and determine the building blocks of proteins, viruses and cells. Cryo-EM, one of the key technologies at the forefront of the structure revolution, is allowing researchers to better understand how diseases like Alzheimer’s disease affect the brain, and how specific proteins involved in causing disease might be targeted with drugs or vaccines.
Minister Jo Johnson was able to announce at the event new multi-million pound funding for further cryo-EM facilities in the UK, some of which will be available through the Instruct Centre UK located in Oxford and at the Harwell Research Campus. This investment, combined with the new status of Instruct-ERIC, will enable the best and brightest European minds to share knowledge and state-of-the-art equipment, to advance discovery science and improve human health.
Professor David Stuart, Director of Instruct-ERIC and MRC Professor at the University of Oxford, said: “Continued stability for partnerships across Europe is invaluable at this critical and exciting time for structural biology. International collaboration has always been important for structural biology as we need the collective knowledge and skills of chemists, physicists, computer scientists and biologists to develop the technology, before we can advance the science. Today’s announcements represent a welcome commitment to strengthening infrastructure, research collaborations and enabling the brightest minds to work together across borders.”
Dr Nathan Richardson, MRC Head of Molecular and Cellular Medicine and Chair of Instruct-ERIC Council, said: “We’re delighted to be able to provide extra support, complementary to other investments, enabling access for even more researchers to cutting-edge technology at a crucial time, allowing them to tackle the biological questions that will help advance human health.