Putting X-rays to work – June news from the Imaging Centre of Excellence

ARC Centre of Excellence for Advanced Molecular Imaging

Posted on behalf of James Whisstock, Director Imaging CoE

Welcome to the June newsletter of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Advanced Molecular Imaging.

Another month down the track and the Centre is really coming together.

In terms of facilities and equipment, I’m excited because construction of Australia’s most advanced cryo-electron microscope unit is well underway and should be finished in early September. It will be housed in a bespoke facility at Monash University and enable us to view bio-macromolecules down to atomic resolution. You can read more about the new facility below.

On the administrative front, we are moving towards completion of sign-off with the Australian Research Council and will be announcing a date for our launch in the coming days. And we have also appointed a Centre Administrator, Chantelle Linnett, who will be responsible for project management. You can meet her below.

Meanwhile, our research forges on, and our chief investigators continue to be showered with awards. Several of them have made important presentations all around the world.

In this newsletter we:

The Imaging CoE truly is an exciting place to be, as it carves out its place in Australia’s science community.

Please feel free to share this newsletter with interested colleagues, and do of course let me know if you do not want to receive future issues.


James Whisstock
Director, Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Advanced Molecular Imaging
Professor, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Monash University

Putting X-rays to work in advanced molecular imaging

The spectacular images below of a red blood cell infected with a malaria parasite are taken from a paper which discusses a new microscope technique that uses X-rays to produce high-resolution cellular imaging. The paper was co-authored by Centre Chief Investigators Brian Abbey and Keith Nugent and Partner Investigator Andrew Peele and has been accepted for publication in the New Journal of Physics.

The lead authors of the paper, entitled Fresnel coherent diffractive imaging tomography of whole cells in capillaries, were Dr Mac Luu and Dr Grant van Riessen from La Trobe University, a node of the Imaging CoE.

The work is a good example of what the Centre will be able to deliver though the collaboration of its physics, chemistry and biology researchers, generating new techniques to enable us to observe what has not been visible before.

You can see for yourself in these images:


(a, b) 3D surface rendering of three recognised features in the reconstructed infected red blood cell (RBC) at two different views perpendicular to each other; (c) A cross-section through the RBC at the position indicated by the plane P in (a): blue features indicate the host RBC, the green feature indicates the parasite and its exomembrane system (Par), and the red features represent hemozoin (Hz) crystals within the parasite cytoplasm; (d) 3D rendering of the Hz as shown in (c).

Image taken from: Luu et al., New Journal of Physics, 2014 – ACCEPTED

The experiment was conducted at the Advanced Photon Source in Chicago. Funding for the trip was provided by the International Synchrotron Access Program supported by the Australian Government and managed by the Australian Synchrotron, a partner organisation of the Centre.

Cryo-electron microscope

Construction is well underway of the bespoke facility in the Monash Science Technology Research and Innovation Precinct (STRIP), which will house Australia’s most advanced cryo-electron microscope capable of atomic resolution. The microscope will begin operating in September, managed under the Monash University platform strategy. Although not owned by the Imaging Centre of Excellence, it will become a critical part of its infrastructure.

Work on the facility began just after Easter and will be finished in early September, when the world’s most advanced microscope for imaging bio-macromolecules will be delivered. It is an FEI Company Titan Krios, incorporating a back-thinned Falcon 2 detection system, which enables imaging of proteins down to the position of individual atoms.

“There is no capability like it in Australia at present,” says Centre Director, James Whisstock. “It will give our national structural biology research community a huge technological boost.”

“The new facility will allow us to study how the many different forms proteins take can lead to many different interactions. Furthermore, through the application of techniques such as confocal microscopy, the facility will bridge the all-important gap between light microscopy and atomic resolution microscopy.”

“We look forward to bringing this technology to the Australian scientific community. Exciting times are ahead.”

The microscope has been funded by the Clive and Vera Ramaciotti Foundations, the Australian Research Council, Monash University, La Trobe University and the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research.

Chief Investigators receive NHMRC awards

Congratulations to Chief Investigators Katharina Gaus and Jamie Rossjohn who were honoured in the NHMRC research excellence awards announced earlier this month in Canberra in the presence of Federal Health Minister Peter Dutton, CEO of the NHMRC Warwick Anderson, Nobel Laureate Barry Marshall, and other distinguished guests.

Katharina, an NHMRC Senior Research Fellow at the University of New South Wales, was awarded an Elizabeth Blackburn Fellowship for biomedical research, one of three Blackburn fellowships presented annually to highlight the achievements of women scientists. The award was made for her work that “aims to better understand the molecular mechanisms of the decision-making processes of immune cells”.

Her recognition was marked by a feature article in the Sydney Morning Herald that talked of a new super-resolution microscope Katharina has designed. Using tens of thousands of images of a single T cell in which components are highlighted with fluorescent markers, the microscope can resolve the patterns of proteins involved in decision-making. Eventually, Katharina hopes, such work will lead to therapies that train T-cells to target cancer cells.

You can read the article for yourself here.

Among more than 3000 grant applications, Jamie Rossjohn was awarded the NHMRC’s highest-ranked project grant. He and his team will use the grant to allow them to further their investigation into mucosal-associated invariant T cells (MAIT cells), the sentry immune cells found in abundance in the gastrointestinal system. Their research may pave the way to improved treatments for conditions such as tuberculosis and inflammatory bowel disease.

As noted in last month’s bulletin, Jamie recently became an Australian Academy of Science Fellow. His short presentation on his work at the Academy’s Shine Dome in Canberra to mark his admission can be seen here.

Ensuring the Centre shapes up

Chantelle Linnett

Chantelle is preparing for the Peter Mac’s Ride to Conquer Cancer in October.

Chantelle Linnett is a bubbly person. She may need to draw deeply on that capacity in her new job as the Centre Administrator.

Chantelle will have two important roles: first, as executive assistant to Centre Director, James Whisstock, and second as the person who organises the administrative side of the Centre, running its programs and promoting it to students and the general public.

She comes to the Centre from working as the academic programs officer in the University of Melbourne’s Biomedical Sciences Academic Centre, where she was in charge of organising examinations and ensuring that student handbooks and lecture notes were printed.

“I raised the reputation of a department which was not renowned for submitting its exams on time to near the top of the biomedical precinct,” Chantelle says.

Chantelle has also worked at RMIT, Deakin and Victoria universities and, during her eight years in administration, has gained “a passion for education and research”.

Outside of work, she’s just as energetic—playing tennis, listening to music, dancing and riding a bicycle 100km each weekend to prepare for the Peter Mac’s Ride to Conquer Cancer in October.

Taking the Centre’s message to Canberra

When the Department of Industry invited Andrew Peele, Director of the Australian Synchrotron and Imaging CoE Partner Investigator, to speak to its Science Policy section in Canberra, he grabbed the opportunity and took Centre Director James Whisstock with him.

This was a chance to present not only the significance, outcomes and economic benefits of the synchrotron, but also how it can be used in advanced molecular imaging. In fact, Andrew and James were able to speak about how synchrotron imaging approaches can revolutionise industrial capability in fields as diverse as medicine, agribusiness and materials science.

The talk Andrew gave, entitled Australian Synchrotron – What does it do and why does it matter?, provided the broad context of the facility and gave James a platform to discuss the specific relevance of the synchrotron to his group’s studies of the nature and function of the pore-forming, killer protein perforin. Andrew and James were able to highlight how the advent of the Imaging Centre of Excellence and its partnership with the synchrotron will be able to take this kind of research even further.

Members of the audience were keen to hear about who uses Australia’s most significant piece of scientific equipment for what, and how it has made life better for them. They also wanted to know how the synchrotron could be used more widely and effectively. That was where James came in, as a researcher employing the synchrotron in his work.

“We spoke to a good-sized audience, many of whom stayed on afterwards and asked questions,” Andrew says. “This type of opportunity is tremendously important in disseminating the outcomes and the importance of our research to the very people who make decisions in and around the practice of research.”

Taking the Centre’s message to the people

Celebration of a century of X-ray crystallography and how the synchrotron adds value to our daily lives are the topics of public lectures to be given by Chief Investigator Harry Quiney and Partner Investigator Andrew Peele as part of the University of Melbourne’s School of Physics July Lecture Series. The talks should give people an insight into some of the science on which the Centre is founded.

As the primary technique for determining the structures of proteins—and thus of critical importance to the pharmaceutical industry—X-ray crystallography is founded on the Bragg diffraction law, laid down by Australian father and son Nobel Laureates W. H. and W. L. Bragg 100 years ago. Harry will discuss how the use of new sources of electrons, neutrons and X-rays promises to revolutionise both materials science and structural biology.

The Australian Synchrotron is one of the most significant investments in research infrastructure ever made in this country. In only seven years of operation the Australian Synchrotron has accelerated outputs in biotechnology, helped industries of the future and is working to save lives. Andrew’s talk describes the synchrotron: how it works, what it does and why it is good for you.

The series runs on Friday evenings in the Carillo Gantner Theatre in the Asia Centre on Swanston Street at 8 pm with Harry on 11 July and Andrew on 18 July.

They are by no means the only researchers doing their bit publicising the work of the Centre. On 10 June, CI Brian Abbey spent an hour describing the work of the Centre to 60 Year 9 students at Ivanhoe Grammar. His talk was entitled Molecular movies: imaging single molecules using visible light and X-rays.

And on 12 June, Jamie Rossjohn, as a new fellow of the Australian Academy of Science, gave a public lecture entitled Immunity to vitamin B metabolites at the Melbourne Brain Centre Auditorium in the Kenneth Myer Building at the University of Melbourne.

Taking the Centre’s message to the science world

Imaging CoE researchers have travelled far and wide in the past month, presenting their studies and approaches to the world.

As most of us sit in wintry Australia, Centre Director James Whisstock is in Lucca, Tuscany chairing a Gordon Research Conference on Proteolytic Enzymes and their Inhibitors. The internationally prestigious Gordon research conferences began in 1931 at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and are now run by a non-profit organisation of the same name.

Late in July, Chief Investigator Jamie Rossjohn will be delivering a paper in San Diego to the 28th annual Symposium of the Protein Society on his work on mucosal-associated invariant T cells (MAIT cells). It is entitled Immune sensing of vitamin B metabolites. Earlier this month, in addition to presentations in association with becoming a fellow of the Australian Academy of Science, Jamie was at the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) Immunoreceptors conference in Colorado talking about Immune recognition of Vitamin B-based precursors.

Other important presentations were given this month by Assistant Investigator Michelle Dunstone from Monash, who told the Microbiology and Infectious Diseases Asia Congress in Singapore about how proteins change shape to punch a hole in a cell in a paper entitled Unravelling the mysteries of the CDC and MACPF pore forming toxins; Centre Deputy Director Katharina Gaus from UNSW discussed Single molecular localisation microscopy at the 9th International Weber Symposium on Innovative Fluorescence Methodologies in Biochemistry and Medicine in Kauai, Hawaii; and Chief Investigator Dale Godfrey from the University of Melbourne told the Monash Haematology Conference about The growing family of innate-like T cells.

About the Centre

The goals of the Centre are to build Australia’s knowledge, capabilities and capacity in advanced molecular imaging and immunology by:

  • undertaking large scale, transformative, interdisciplinary and collaborative research
  • developing innovative imaging technologies, products and IP
  • establishing a centre that will link national and international networks of universities, research infrastructure and industry
  • attracting and mentoring early and mid-career interdisciplinary researchers, and
  • establishing a strong, nationwide, outreach program, with a focus on communicating our scientific discoveries to key stakeholders and the general public.

The ARC Centre of Excellence in Advanced Molecular Imaging is funded by the Australian Research Council and administered by Monash University. The Centre brings together teams from:

Collaborating Organisations: La Trobe University, The University of Melbourne, The University of New South Wales, The University of Queensland.

Partner Organisations: Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, Australian Synchrotron, Carl Zeiss Pty Ltd, Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron, Germany, Leica Microsystems Pty Ltd, University of Warwick, UK.

Visit our website: www.imagingcoe.org
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Send us an email: director@imagingcoe.org