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International Union of Crystallography

The IUCr is an International Scientific Union. Its objectives are to promote international cooperation in crystallography and to contribute to all aspects of crystallography, to promote international publication of crystallographic research, to facilitate standardization of methods, units, nomenclatures and symbols, and to form a focus for the relations of crystallography to other sciences.

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Posted 03 May 2016 

research news

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New system developed at EMBL automates crystals preparation for X-ray analysis

wa5104CrystalDirect streamlines the process of preparing crystals for X-ray diffraction experiments. Whereas scientists currently have to harvest and treat the crystals by hand, samples processed at EMBL’s high-throughput crystallisation (HTX) lab in Grenoble can now be loaded in the system at one end and the relevant data collected at the other, with little more than a mouse-click in-between.

This fully automated system, described in a recent article [Zander et al. (2016), Acta Cryst. D72, 454-466; doi:10.1107/S2059798316000954] is making crystallography much more accessible, also for scientists from other fields who may not have the training required to handle fragile crystals. It could pave the way for a much wider use of the technique and for collaborations with other scientific fields.

Following crystallisation, a typical crystal has to go through several steps: harvesting, soaking, and cryo-cooling, before it can be analysed by X-rays. Until now these had to be done by hand and required a lot of time and skills. The teams of Jose Antonio Marquez and Florent Cipriani, both at EMBL-Grenoble, collaborated to automate this process with some creative innovations.

Crystals are now grown on a very thin plastic film that can be laser-cut and carried automatically to the next processing step, thus removing the need to find and harvest the microscopic samples by hand. It makes the process much smoother and safer for the crystals that undergo less mechanical stress.

When applied to structure-based drug design projects, in which samples have to be soaked with a ligand before X-ray analysis, the plastic film becomes a gentle mixer. The solution with the ligand is deposited on top of the film, above the crystal, and a robot punctures a tiny hole in it to allow the ligand to mix slowly and gently with the crystal and bind together.

Finally, most protein crystals have to be cooled to very low temperatures before X-ray analysis. At that stage the plastic film becomes a sieve when the robot punctures another tiny hole in it to gently remove all the solution surrounding the crystal. The sample can then be dipped in liquid nitrogen and cryo-cooled directly and in isolation. Traditionally this step was preceded by the addition of chemicals, like glycerol, to protect the crystals from the damage caused by the freezing of water in the solution; without water around this step is not necessary, thus removing the risk of chemical damage to the crystal.

These developments improve the quality and the quantity of the crystals that finally reach the X-rays for analysis. They also make crystallography easier to access since scientists can control everything remotely through the web-based crystallization information management system (CRIMS), potentially opening up the field to many more applications.

This story is adapted from material from The European Bioinformatics Institute, with editorial changes made by the IUCr. The link to the original article can be found here.

Posted 26 May 2016 

meeting report

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Crystallography for Space Sciences

A COSPAR Capacity Building Workshop
INAOE and BUAP, Puebla, Mexico

April 17-29, 2016

The first International School/Workshop on Crystallography for Space Sciences organized as a collaboration of COSPAR, the International Union of Crystallography (IUCr) and the International Astronomical Union in Puebla, Mexico in April 2016 was a great success.

The opening ceremony of Crystallography for Space Sciences Workshop [from the left Juan Manuel Garcia-Ruiz (venue director, CSIC, University of Granada, Spain), Ygnacio Martínez Laguna (Autonomous University of Puebla), Guillermo Tenorio-Taglio (INAOE). Hanna Dabkowska (IUCr), Mariano Mendez (COSPAR)].

More details and photographs in the IUCr photo gallery.

The aim of the Workshop - stellarly directed by Juanma García-Ruiz (CSIC-University of Granada) was to prepare a selected number of participants for the next generation of projects in search of a deeper knowledge and understanding of extraterrestrial minerals and rocks, either large solid bodies or interstellar dust particles, using in-situ and remote analytical techniques.

27 PhD students, postdocs and young staff members took part in the workshop, mostly from Latin America. They learned about modern crystallographic techniques in the fields of diffraction, imaging, spectroscopy and remote sensing. They also learned about the formation of mineral growth patterns in the early Earth, our Moon, Mars and other planets and moons, meteorites and interstellar dust, as well as about the relevance of crystals to the origin of life and detection of primitive life forms. During this workshop the students were also taught about sample preparation techniques. They analyzed their own data, and also data from the missions Discovery and Curiosity, and they learned about data collection on the forthcoming Exomars mission. Portable difractometers and spectrophotometers designed for these missions were used during the field trip for remote analysis of volcanic rocks. Last but not least, all the participants learned about COSPAR (presentation by Mariano Mendez) and the IUCr (by Hanna Dabkowska).

The detailed program of the workshop, with the most important talks included, can be found at the Workshop website.

On the first day of the venue the nearby Popocatepetl volcano erupted, providing the students with ample amount of volcanic ashes to be analyzed - just on their doorsteps! The planned excursion to this volcano, led by the vulcanologist Claus Siebe, was moved to less dangerous locations, though still at the lava deposits (from previous eruptions).

The crystallographic and crystal growth lectures (presented by Jim Britten, Juan Rodriguez Carvajal, Hanna Dabkowska, Yuki Kimura, Jose Antonio Manrique, Chris Mavris, Maria Eugenia Mendoza, Teresa Pi Puig, Juan Manuel Garcia Ruiz and Fernando Rull) were at a very high level and were very much enjoyed by the students. So were the inspiring talks about the Mars missions (presented by Dave Blake on Curiosity, Jorge Vago on Exomars and Pablo Sobron on future missions), about the Hayabusa mission (by Tomoki Nakamura), about meteorite investigations, (by Rafael Navarro-Gonzalez, Fernando Ortega and Jaime Urrutia), about early minerals (by Mark van Zuilen) and about some interesting crystals (by Wulf Depmeier and David Page).

In the afternoons the students worked with the instructors, preparing samples, analyzing them using a portable diffractometer, Raman and infrared spectrophotometer and optical microscopy, and applying methods discussed earlier during the lectures.

The local organizers team, led by Guillermo Tenorio Tagle, Maria-Eugenia Mendoza, Raul Mujica, Teresa Pi Puig and Ulises Salazar, went out of their way to have the group entertained, well fed with delicious food and taught about the impressive local historical sites. We visited Puebla City, ancient pyramids in Cholula and Teotihuacan and we had the opportunity to participate in two very active public events, one the lecture of Jorge Vago in Puebla about the Exomars mission, and the other a round-table discussion on Life on Mars in the Museo UNIVERSUM. We also had opportunities to observe the crystal growth competition organized by Raul Mujica and Maria-Eugenia Mendoza for Puebla schoolchildren, accompanied by the public lecture of Juanma Garcia-Ruiz on Giant Crystals of Naica, to watch the movie The Martian, to discuss it with the experts involved in Mars exploration, and to participate in the concert performed by the very professional, young Esperanza Azteca orchestra.

The school ended with the presentation of the practical works performed by the students on their own samples or samples provided by the organizers.

All the participants - students and teachers alike - found this workshop very educational and very effective. The expectation is that this very successful COSPAR-IUCr collaboration will be repeated in the near future.

Submitted by Hanna A. Dabkowska
Posted 24 May 2016

research news

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Radiation damage in a nucleoprotein complex

The TRAP–(GAGUU)10GAG complex asymmetric unitRadiation damage has been a curse of macromolecular crystallography from its early days but recent work to systematically quantify its effect on nucleoprotein complexes suggests that RNA may protect these complexes [Dauter et al. (2016). Acta Cryst. D72, 601-602; doi:10.1107/S2059798316006550].

The problem of radiation damage was very acute when diffraction data were measured from crystals kept at ambient temperatures. The introduction of cryo-cooling techniques to some extent alleviated the severity of the damaging effects incurred by protein and nucleic acid crystals, but the very intense synchrotron sources now used may destroy diffracting crystals after minutes or seconds of exposure. Not only does the quality of diffraction data and structure solution processes suffer, but, more importantly, radiation damage may lead to misinterpretation of chemical and biological results and to false mechanistic conclusions. Radiation damage has thus become a hot topic of contemporary macromolecular methodology; dedicated international workshops are held every two years and the proceedings have been published in the Journal of Synchrotron Radiation.

The effects of radiation damage are manifested globally as a decrease in the total crystal diffraction power, a change of unit-cell dimensions, an increase of crystal mosaicity or eventually its cracking and disintegration. However, even after absorbing smaller energy doses, many specific local effects of damage can be identified within the structures of macromolecules.

Particularly active is this field is the group at the University of Oxford headed by Elspeth Garman. In a recent paper [Bury et al. (2016). Acta Cryst. D72, 648-657; doi:10.1107/S2059798316003351] this group and their collaborators describe an ingenious method to systematically quantify the effect of increasing absorbed dose on individual atoms of the structure, and then apply it to a crystal structure containing simultaneously an un-complexed protein and its complex with RNA.

Over a large dose range, the RNA was found to be far less susceptible to radiation-induced chemical changes than the protein. Unexpectedly, the RNA binding was observed to protect otherwise highly sensitive residues within the RNA-binding pockets distributed around the outside of the protein molecule. Additionally, the method enabled a quantification of the reduction in radiation-induced disordering upon RNA binding, directly from the electron density.

The paper thus presents a novel objective methodology for judging the effects of radiation damage on macromolecular crystals that will certainly be extremely helpful for the community of macromolecular crystallographers.

Posted 05 May 2016 


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New Fellow of the Royal Society

[professor bill david]William David, Professor of Chemistry at the University of Oxford in the Department of Chemistry, has achieved the distinction of being elected Fellow of the world’s most eminent and oldest scientific academy in continuous existence: the Royal Society, founded in 1660. There are approximately 1600 Fellows and Foreign Members, of the Royal Society, including around 80 Nobel Laureates. Each year up to 52 Fellows and 10 Foreign Members are elected from a group of 700 candidates who are proposed by the existing Fellowship.

Professor William David FRS has a long history with the International Union of Crystallography and our current Vice President of the International Union of Crystallography Professor Mike Glazer recounts his personal story of Professor David’s achievements.

“When I arrived in Oxford in 1976 having come from Cambridge with my research group I was presented with an Oxford student to join us, this was Bill David, who had completed his Degree in Physics. I set him to work in the field of ferroelasticity in crystals. Once he had settled into the project he took the subject to heart and began to come up with a series of new ideas which later formed the basis for several publications. We worked together on a number of experiments but eventually Bill's prodigious ability and understanding of his research topic showed that he was an excellent and independent researcher. His D Phil thesis in the end consisted of two extremely fat volumes for which his internal examiner never forgave me! About ten landmark papers came out of this work. After leaving us he went to work at ISIS where he quickly established his reputation working mainly in powder diffraction. He was one of the first to work on the structures of high temperature superconductors and the famous Buckyballs. He has gone on to a post in the Oxford Chemistry Department where he has been working on the crystallography of hydrogen storage materials. Gifted both as an experimentalist and theoretician, he is truly an all-round scientist who well deserves his Fellowship of the Royal Society”.

A list of Professor David’s papers published by the IUCr can be found here.

Posted 03 May 2016 


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IUCr sponsorship and support of meetings

In order to fulfill its roles to promote international cooperation in crystallography and to contribute to the advancement of crystallography in all its aspects the IUCr regularly sponsors symposia and workshops on topics relevant to crystallography. There is a well defined procedure that should be followed when applying for sponsorship. The rules can be found here.

Part of the condition of sponsorship includes the following

  • A substantially reduced registration fee should be provided for recipients of the Young Scientist Awards.
  • Preference should be given to those young scientists who have published in IUCr journals.
  • For meetings of a more general nature preference should be given to young scientists with a crystallographic background.
  • Awards for young scientists should be used solely for travel and subsistence expenses and not as a waiver of registration fees.
  • Young scientists are graduate students, post-graduate students or post-doctoral fellows with a maximum age of 30 (exceptionally 35).
  • A report on the uses made of the above money and a general report on the meeting should be sent to execsec@iucr.org

If you are organizing a meeting and wish to be considered for IUCr support please visit http://www.iucr.org/iucr/sponsorship/meetings.html

 4th Dec 2016 - 7th Dec 2016

AsCA 2016

Hanoi, Vietnam

 22nd Nov 2016 - 25th Nov 2016

6th Moroccan School of Crystallography – EMC6

Meknes, Morocco

 14th Nov 2016 - 18th Nov 2016

VIII School of the Argentinian Association of Crystallography

San Luis, Argentina

 23rd Oct 2016 - 27th Oct 2016

VIII Congreso Nacional de Cristalografía

Mérida, Mexico

 23rd Oct 2016 - 27th Oct 2016

Second meeting of the Latin American Crystallographic Association (LACA)

Mérida, Mexico

 15th Oct 2016 - 19th Oct 2016

2nd International Workshop on X-ray Crystallography in Structural Biology

Lahore, Pakistan

 6th Oct 2016 - 10th Oct 2016

First Pan African Conference on Crystallography (PCCr1)

Dschang, Cameroon

 25th Sep 2016 - 2nd Oct 2016

3rd European Crystallography School (ECS3)

Bol, Croatia

 20th Sep 2016

2016 IUCr High-Pressure Workshop

PAL, Republic of Korea

 18th Sep 2016 - 23rd Sep 2016

13th International Conference on Quasicrystals

Kathmandu, Nepal

 12th Sep 2016 - 16th Sep 2016

4th International Soft Matter Conference (ISMC2016)

Grenoble, France

 5th Sep 2016 - 7th Sep 2016

11th International Conference on Advances in Experimental Mechanics

Exeter, United Kingdom

 28th Aug 2016 - 1st Sep 2016

30th Meeting of the European Crystallographic Association

Basel, Switzerland

 22nd Aug 2016 - 26th Aug 2016

Powder Diffraction School. Modern Synchrotron Methods

Villigen, Switzerland

Posted 03 May 2016