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Bristol shares in £10 million BBSRC funding for advanced scientific equipment

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18 December 2013

The University has won a £970,000 share of a £10 million grant from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) for advanced scientific research instruments designed to help keep the UK at the forefront of biological sciences research.

The Schools of Biochemistry and Biological Sciences both benefit from the BBSRC Advanced Life Sciences Research Technology Initiative (ALERT 13), which represents the first major equipment purchasing grant scheme from BBSRC since 2007.

Professor David Stephens in the School of Biochemistry led a team that has been awarded £643,780 to fund new systems for correlative light electron microscopy (CLEM) in the Wolfson Bioimaging Facility, while Professor Keith Edwards, Jane Coghill and Dr Christy Waterfall of the Bristol Genomics Facility, based within the School of Biological Sciences, have been awarded £326,000 (boosted by an additional £25,000 from the Lady Emily Smyth Agricultural Research Station) to purchase the next generation of high-throughput array-based genotyping technology.

The Wolfson Bioimaging Facility, led by Drs Mark Jepson and Paul Verkade, will use the new equipment in projects ranging from fundamental studies into complex cell biology (in the labs of Pete Cullen, Jon Hanley, Jon Lane, David Stephens and Christoph Wuelfing) through to experiments to examine interactions of cancer cells with the immune system (Paul Martin’s lab), the development of the skeleton (Chrissy Hammond’s lab), and the way in which newly designed nanostructures interact with cells (Dek Woolfson’s lab).

Developments in electron microscopy have enabled researchers to image live cells to gain incredible detail of time-sensitive cellular events (on millisecond timescales) at very high resolution, but only in fixed, processed samples. This can achieve 3D reconstructions of cellular structures at nanometre resolution. Correlative light electron microscopy allows scientists to combine these approaches to achieve high resolution movies of cell dynamics and high resolution ultrastructure of the same events. The work has implications for multiple areas, including basic bioscience underpinning normal human and animal health, infection and ageing.

Professor Stephens said: ‘This award represents an exciting opportunity for the Wolfson Bioimaging Facility at Bristol. We are at the forefront of developing methods for CLEM, making us ideally placed to exploit new technologies in this area, and opening up opportunities for collaboration around the UK and beyond. We will also be working in partnership with Leica Microsystems, a leading manufacturer of optical microscopes and electron microscopy equipment, which will ensure future technical and commercial development.’

Professor Edwards’ research is concerned with deciphering the complex genetic code for wheat. Common bread wheat has six sets of chromosomes (three times that of humans), and its genome is around five times bigger than our own. His team has been working on producing the next generation of molecular markers which are essential for UK breeders to develop new wheat varieties capable of generating high yields in the face of climate change.

The new high-throughput genotyping technology in Biological Sciences is the first of its type to be installed within a UK university laboratory, and is capable of screening several thousand samples with tens of thousands of sequencing differences, known as single nucleotide polymorphisms.

Professor Edwards said: ‘While the genotyping facility will be used by our group in the Bristol Genomics Facility to probe genetic diversity in wheat, it was a central part of our bid that this world-beating technology would be made available to a wide range of other Bristol and non-Bristol based researchers in order to enhance the potential impact of research.’

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