Cryo-EM Industrial Transformation Training Centre at Bio21 Institute

Leading researchers from the Department of Biochemistry and Pharmacology are heading up the Melbourne node of the Centre, working with Monash University and partners.

The ARC Industrial Transformation Training Centre for Cryo-electron Microscopy of Membrane Proteins (CCeMMP) has been established at the Bio21 Molecular Science and Biotechnology Institute and will train researchers in the use of cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) for drug discovery. Funding for the Centre was announced by the ARC in July 2020.

Associate Professor Isabelle Rouiller, Laboratory Head and Graduate Research Training Coordinator in the Department of Biochemistry and Pharmacology, is Deputy Director of the ARC CCeMMP. She is working with other leading researchers from the Department: Professor Michael Parker, Bio21 Director and NHMRC Senior Principal Research Fellow, and Associate Professor Michael Griffin, Principle Research Fellow, who are Chief Investigators within the Centre.

The Centre aims to advance Australia’s biotechnological capability and build strong linkages between academia and industry.

What is Cryo-EM?

Cryo-EM is a new technique that has transformed the field of structural biology by making it possible to determine the structure of membrane proteins without the need to crystallise them, as had previously been the case.

A/Professor Rouiller, explains that all the trillions of cells in an adult body which make up our tissues and organs are encased in a fatty ‘lipid’ membrane that acts as a barrier between the inside and outside of the cell or creates separate compartments within cells.

It is through obtaining accurate images of the three-dimensional atomic structure of these membrane proteins, that scientists gain a wealth of information critical to the design, development and optimisation of new drugs and antibody treatments.

How Cryo-EM works

Electron microscopes capture high-resolution images of sensitive biological samples. Using tens of thousands of ‘snapshots’ of different views of a protein, a three-dimensional, high-resolution ‘density map’ – or picture – of the protein is calculated. Researchers then build the atomic structure of the protein into the density map.

This structural information allows researchers to understand how the membrane protein is organised, functions, and how it interacts with various drugs. Determining the structure of the protein on its own, and when bound to these drugs, allows researchers to design new and better medicines more rapidly and cheaply than would otherwise be possible.

About CCeMMP

CCeMMP is an initiative led by Monash University, together with partners at the University of Melbourne, the University of Wollongong, and the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute.

Article was first published by Research at Melbourne.

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