A joint UK and Chinese team working at Diamond solved the structure of EV71 last year

The Crystal Lab uses robots

17 February 2013 Last updated at 15:25 ET

Diamond to shine light on infections

By Jonathan Amos
Science correspondent, BBC News, Boston

The UK’s national synchrotron facility – the Diamond Light Source near Oxford – is to become a world centre for studying the structure of viruses and bacteria that cause serious disease.

Diamond uses intense X-rays to reveal the molecular and atomic make-up of objects and materials.

It will now use this capability to image Containment Level 3 pathogens.

These are responsible for illnesses such as Aids, hepatitis and some types of flu.

Level 3 is one step down from the most dangerous types of infectious agent, such as Ebola, which can only be handled in the most secure government facilities.

“Viruses, as you know, are sort of tiny nanomachines and you can’t see them in a normal microscope.

“But with the crystallography and X-ray techniques we use, we are able to get about 10,000 times the resolution of the normal light microscope,” explained Dave Stuart, the life sciences director at Diamond and a professor of structural biology at Oxford University.

“This takes us from the regime of not being able to see them to being able to see individual atoms.

“And if we can look at ‘live’ viruses and get an atomic-level description of them, it opens up the possibility of using modern drug-design techniques to produce new pharmaceuticals.”

Read more: BBC News – Diamond to shine light on infections.

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