Hitting the target
Bioxhit: biocrystallography (X) on a highly integrated technology platform for European structural genomics
Bioxhit is a unique project, bringing together – for the first time – all of Europe’s present and future synchrotron facilities to develop an integrated technology platform for biocrystallography. The project aims to increase the capacity of X-ray crystallography to determine the 3D structure of the tens of thousands of new macromolecules – mainly proteins – which have been discovered in recent years, thanks to advances in genome sequencing.
Many of these macromolecules are involved in fundamental biological processes and have great potential as new drug targets, but understanding their precise function and role in the cell requires knowledge of their structural architecture.
For many years, high-powered X-rays generated at huge synchrotron radiation facilities have been used to obtain structural information from crystallised forms of the molecules in question. But current facilities were not designed for the high throughput necessary to analyse the huge numbers of newly discovered molecules.
The goal of Bioxhit is to take the best available technologies for each step of 3D analysis – from crystallisation to X-ray diffraction data collection – and to develop these into a single integrated platform providing standardised, highly automated tools for use at synchrotrons across Europe.
BIOXHIT aims to set the standards for macromolecular crystallography beamlines in all synchrotron sources in Europe, including those still in project, like Diamond (the new UK synchrotron under construction).
“This is the first time a project of this scale has been funded by the EU to support the technology rather than proof of principle or data production,” says Victor Lamzin, Bioxhit project coordinator based at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory‘s Hamburg Outstation in Germany.
Standardisation is key to the Bioxhit project. Bioinformaticians from the consortium are developing software interfaces which will render different hardware installations virtually equivalent to end-users, and make experimental data storage and retrieval much more user-friendly. With new synchrotrons – such as Diamond in the UK and Soleil in France – due to start up over the next few years, it is essential that the scientific community is able to exploit and exchange new data coming from different European facilities.
Widening the horizons
In addition, the project scientists are developing new robotic tools which will make the technology much easier to use and increase the possibility of working by remote access, thus opening up the field of biocrystallography to a far greater range of non-specialist scientists.
To ensure that project developments are disseminated to the wider scientific community and that the next generation of scientists are trained in the new techniques, a number of Training, Implementation and Dissemination Centres will be created outside the participating laboratory network. Three of these will be trialled this year, with a further three planned during the project’s lifespan.
“The project is a strategic development for structural biology and structural genomics in Europe. Most of the methods and techniques which are going to be developed in Bioxhit will be either directly transportable to individual labs outside the project, or will indirectly benefit all European users by allowing a more efficient use of the synchrotron sources,” explains Martino Bolognesi from the University of Milan, Italy and chairman of the Bioxhit scientific advisory board.
Along with SPINE (Structural Proteomics in Europe), an integrated project funded under FP5, Bioxhit will help to unite structural genomics research in Europe, making it more competitive on a global scale.
Victor Lamzin (victor@EMBL-Hamburg.de)
European Molecular Biology Laboratory - Hamburg Outstation
EU contribution: €10.5 million
Duration: 4 years