Meeting report

School on biological crystallization

Granada, Spain, May 22-26, 2006

[Granada school]An International School on Biological Crystallization (ISBC) was held in Granada, Spain in May, 2006 under the auspices of the IUCr Commission on Crystal Growth. The school was for postgraduate/postdoctoral students and research scientists from industry and academia and focused on the crystallization of biological materials. The 119 participants came from 24 different countries on five continents.

[Granada school]Lectures and practical demonstrations were presented by 22 experts in the field of crystallization of biological macromolecules, drugs and bioactive compounds, polymorphic precipitation, and biomineralization. (The full program is available at http://isbcgranada.org.) The first day of the School dealt with the fundamentals of crystallization from solution. Introductory lectures included an overview of the history of protein crystallization, lectures on the physicochemical properties of solutions, nucleation and crystal growth theories and mass transport processes, and included a video of in situ crystal growth. The students and participants heard vivid and lively lectures covering all aspects of protein crystal growth, including high-throughput, additives, post-translational modifications, and new crystallization strategies. A highlight was the performance of the ISBC “ensemble” (Alex McPherson, Madeleine Ries, Terese Bergfors and Juan Manuel Garcia-Ruiz) in a hands-on demonstration of batch, vapor diffusion, dialysis or counterdiffusion experiments. After a busy day we walked to the Alhambra for a romantic night tour of the Arabian Nazaríes Palace.

[Granada school]Practical training during ISBC was organized in an innovative and lively format we called a Demonstration Fair. During one whole day, 15 specialists presented 5-20 minute practical sessions. Participants organized their own learning program “a la carte” from the experiments on polymorphism, chocolate crystallization, membrane protein crystallization, seeding of crystals, robotics, and light scattering techniques. The Demonstration Fair is an excellent teaching tool because it provides the students with an opportunity to interact personally with the teacher, to watch at finger distance how to perform the experiments, to do them themselves, to plan their teaching schedule on the fly, to devote more time and attention to some particular demonstration and -if necessary- to attend some a second time. The Demonstration Fair is very demanding and was only possible thanks to a team from the Laboratorio de Estudios Cristalograficos led by José Gavira, Fermin Otálora and Luis Gonzalez-Ramirez. Our experience in designing a “space experiment” at Cape Cañaveral or Baikonur made it possible to install and remove the lab benches on the hotel premises in a few hours.

[Granada school]Another initiative tested in ISBC was to merge the communities of protein crystallization, small molecule crystallization and biomineralization. We ran the risk of phase separation or “demixing” of the two communities. However, to the surprise of many of us, this did not happen. The cross-interaction was very intense and, in the opinion of students and teachers, it was a major achievement of the ISBC. The fourth day started with protein crystallization on an industrial scale and then we moved to polymorphism and high-throughput screening of pharmaceutical compounds, crystallization of lipids and computational methods, and ended with two good tasting talks on ice cream and chocolate crystallization. At night we visited the gypsy district of Sacromonte for a a tapas dinner in the cave of Venta del Gallo, followed by a Flamenco Fiesta and a return to the hotel along the river Darro and the Alhambra.

[Granada school]The last day featured talks on crystallization databases, a crucial tool for understanding crystallization, biomineralization and biomimetic materials. Models for the formation of biominerals were reviewed as well as tools for studying textural characterization. Then followed talks on the precipitation in living organisms of calcium carbonates, oxalates and phosphates, the mineralization process of eggshell formation, production of materials inspired by biomineral structures and self-assembly of hierarchical mineral structures. Six prizes were offered by the IUCr (International Tables Volumes A, B and F) and Triana Science & Technology (GCBs and Crystallization mushrooms) to the best posters. Student teams from Italy, Japan, Spain, France, Chile and Belgium were honored by an international panel chaired by Howard Einspahr. We have produced a CD containing all the lectures and demonstrations performed during the School including posters and pictures provided by the participants.

Juan Manuel Garcia-Ruiz