Sarah Boundy, Diamond Light Source
Part of the show Day to Day Diamond
Sarah – So we’ve had some research recently published in Nature Immunology. A number of Diamond’s life science beamlines have been used to study killer T-cells in the human body, these are cells that help protect us from disease. So a team from Cardiff University and King’s College London discovered that T-cells can inadvertently destroy cells that produce insulin and their findings provide the first evidence of this destroying mechanism in action and could offer new understanding of the cause of Type 1 diabetes.
Meera – So how did they actually study this whole area?
Sarah Boundy – So, the team isolated a T-cell from a patient with Type 1 diabetes so they could view a unique molecular interaction which results in the killing of insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. So now that they have evidence of this mechanism in action, they can actually see how killer T-cells might play an important role in autoimmune diseases like diabetes. So this knowledge will be used in the future to help researchers predict who might get the disease and is can also help to develop new approaches to prevent it for example; catching the disease early before too many insulin-producing cells have been damaged.
Meera – All quite important because it is a disease that is becoming quite prevalent today as well. Now stepping away from biology and more onto chemistry and in particular molecular chemistry?
Sarah - Diamond’s Small Molecule Single Crystal Diffraction beamline, I19, has recently played a key role in helping to reveal the exact structure of the most complex non-DNA molecular knot prepared to date. So, Knots are found in DNA and proteins and are even found in the molecules that make up natural and man-made polymers and they can actually play an important role in the substance’s properties. For example, up to 85% of the elasticity of natural rubber is thought to be due to knot-like entanglements in the rubber molecule’s chains.
Meera – Why did chemists, why did scientists want to study this in particular?
Sarah – So they are interested in studying these molecular knots to further understand how they affect a material’s properties, such as elasticity. But tying molecules into knots is something that is really difficult to do and up to now only the simplest types of knot have been achieved. But recently, a team from the University of Edinburgh succeeded in preparing a molecular pentafoil knot, which is basically like a five-pointed star and the scale they were working on was 80,000 times smaller than a hair's breadth and they brought that know to Diamond and the National Crystallography Service collected the diffraction data and an Academy Professor from “YEW-vas-kew-la" University in Finland solved the structure.
Meera – But would you say be some of the applications be having discovered this?
Sarah - Being able to produce materials with a specific number of entanglements, rather than the "random" mixture that occurs in present plastics and polymers, could allow scientists to exercise greater control when designing materials. So for example, it could lead to the creation of very light but strong materials, a kind of molecular chain mail. And it could also produce materials with exceptional elastic or shock-absorbing properties because molecular knots and entanglements are intimately associated with those characteristics.
Meera – Now as well as research though, as usual the Users of Diamond are actually quite important as well as the beamlines and there have been first users on one of the more recent beamlines?
Sarah – Yes, so this is 20th beamline to come online now, it’s Diamond’s X-ray Imaging and Coherence beamline. It’s welcomed first users at the end of last year. Researchers from the Universities of Manchester and Sheffield worked with the beamline team to develop techniques on the coherence branch of I13. So I13 is our long beamline which stretches 250m away from the X-ray source within the synchrotron building.
Meera – Now in previous podcasts we have discussed why this needs to be so long, but for anyone who missed it, why does this beamline need to be that extra distance?
Sarah – Well the distance is necessary in order to produce fully coherent light and that’s light considered in its wave-form as opposed to particles and that enables a wide variety of experiments. So as the light travels over the distance, it fans out into a large, lateral coherent beam, and the beamline receives very brilliant light, which can be described to have laser-like qualities.
Meera – And what were Users looking into?
Sarah – So the Users were using a variety of samples as a means to test the beamline’s capabilities. The Sheffield users are working on a pioneering technique called ptychography which involves exploiting the coherent light in such a way that they are able to combine diffraction and image data to create a high resolution computer-generated image of their sample, and that’s at the nanometre scale.
Meera - Now as well as people coming in to use the facility though Sarah, there’s quite a big Anniversary coming up for Diamond?
Sarah - 2012 is actually Diamond’s ten year anniversary. So the joint venture company was formed a decade ago in March 2002. So we will be celebrating throughout the year with special editions of our newsletter, public open days along with a number of added extras to highlight Diamond’s many achievements over the past ten years. So keep an eye on our website to find out more!
Meera – Thanks Sarah, Sarah Boundy from Diamond’s Communication Team