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The new serial crystallography beamline opens doors to users


The brand new serial crystallography beamline ID29, one of the Extremely Brilliant Source flagship beamlines, has had its first users, in three different experiments. They all focused on ways of scanning thousands of minuscule crystals (smaller than 10 microns) effectively with the new EBS powerful beam. 

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A bunch of scientists and engineers nervously observe the computer screens in the control cabin until a pattern with dots comes up in front of their eyes. They then draw big smiles: it works. The scene has repeated itself three times in the last month. The scientist in charge of the new beamline, Daniele  de Sanctis, is relieved: “In a new beamline, and especially if it is unique in the world, you can expect a few teething problems, but we’ve all been very pleasantly surprised at how smoothly the three first experiments have gone. Together with the other team members, Shibom Basu from European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) and Julien Orlans, we were confident of our work, but it is nevertheless exciting to see the outcome of such a long project, made possible thanks to EBS. Welcome to the new ID29!”

The beamline is run jointly with the EMBL, in the frame of the long-standing collaboration that the ESRF and EMBL have set up on the EPN science campus in Grenoble.

Levitating crystals

“It worked on the first shot”, says Takashi Tomizaki, scientist at Paul Scherrer Institut (PSI) and one of the inventors of the acoustic levitation diffractometer, a device to scan thousands of crystals within a few seconds. “After some tests elsewhere, we have finally managed to get really good scans”, he adds. What he is referring to is no small feat: the device they have developed uses ultrasonic acoustic wave to levitate and rotate a film dispensed with tiny crystals, which are scanned on ID29 on several rounds. The danger of destroying the sample is very real, but this is overcome thanks to the pulsed beam of ID29. The team came to the beamline because of “the high flux, the high brightness of the beam, as well as the fact that it is equipped with the high-frame rate X-ray image detector Jungfrau that is optimized for high-flux experiments, and the flexibility to install our special machine. In fact, thanks to the support of the ID29 scientists in advance, the installation of the levitator was extremely easy”, explains Tomizaki.

“Our set-up will allow us to study samples that are difficult to purify, such as membrane proteins, without damaging the crystals and at room temperature”, adds Tomizaki. Ultimately, the PSI team wants to improve the study of these tiny crystals. “Today it is very laborious to study crystals of this size, as we need to work on each of the crystals, but we hope this will be a thing of the past soon”, concludes Tomizaki.


Scientists from the Technical Applied University of Lübeck (TH Lübeck, Germany) came this month to ID29 to test their new ‘tapedrive’, a project of TH Lübeck led by Manfred Rößle in cooperation with the ESRF, funded by the German ministry of science and education, the BMBF. The aim of this project: to develop a sample environment for the new beamline ID29 with optimized signal to noise ratio for small protein crystals for serial crystallography, the ‘tapedrive’. In it, a perforated polymer belt stays in constant movement with fresh microcrystals supplied onto it, while a second tape blots away mother liquor before the X-ray interaction zone so that quasi naked crystals are irradiated . “Our goal is to study time-resolved structural changes induced by light activation, ligand mixing or pH jump in many micrometer-sized crystals, very fast and with a high signal to noise ratio”, explains Mia Lahey-Rudolph, researcher at the TH Lübeck.

At ID29, they verified the beneficial effect of blotting, and obtained very promising proof-of principle results of a time-resolved pH jump experiment with the fluorescent protein twist-cerulean undergoing a fast pH induced colour change. The tapedrive will be permanently available for ID29 users in 2023.

Extruding crystals to study antibiotics mechanisms

Viewing the inactivation of antibiotics by enzymes in real time at room temperature may make it easier to develop new, improved treatments to overcome antibiotic resistance in the future. This is the aim of the team from the Instituto de Química Física Rocasolano (IQFR-CSIC) in Spain, who came to the new ID29 beamline to test the new injector set-up that the ESRF has developed to study multiple crystals of 5-10 microns in a high viscosity medium.

José Manuel Martín García, researcher at the IQFR-CSIC and leading scientist, explains his first experience on the beamline: “It is a privilege to be able to be one of the first ones to exploit the capabilities of this new beamline, we are delighted with the data and expect that, in upcoming experiments, the combination of the Extremely Brilliant Source (EBS) beam and the capabilities of the beamline allow us to discover new information that could make a difference in the development of new treatments”.

Text and video by Montserrat Capellas Espuny