MSci student placement experience: Diamond Light Source

MSci student placement experience: Diamond Light Source
2023-10-27

My name is Tereza and I am studying MSci Biotechnology (Applied Molecular Biology) with Industrial Placement. For my year placement, I spent 12 incredible months working at the Membrane Protein Laboratory (MPL) and electron Bio-Imaging Centre (eBIC) at Diamond Light Source, the UK’s national synchrotron.

Diamond, MPL and eBIC are all user facilities funded by Instruct-ERIC and Wellcome, providing support for scientists from the UK and worldwide in various fields, such as macromolecular crystallography, soft condensed matter, imaging and microscopy, biological cryo-imaging, magnetic materials, surfaces and structures, crystallography and spectroscopy. The MPL is based at the Research Complex at Harwell, where it supports membrane protein user projects from cloning to final structural determination, improves and develops methodology, and works on internal research projects.

My project focused on a 58 kDa small membrane protein, which causes a lethal infant neurodegenerative disease. After learning the basics of membrane protein workflows, my project culminated in structural analyses using cryogenic electron microscopy at eBIC. Only 2 weeks before the end of my placement I improved the resolution of my EM map to around 4 Å, which allowed us to build a structure, which answered many questions about the protein but raised many others. I also developed and set up a liposome transport assay to confirm or disprove the initially assumed function of my target protein. My data showed ion transport, with lowered activity in several mutants that I cloned.

During my placement year I learnt many new skills and techniques such as working with membrane proteins, transport assay development, cryo-EM sample preparation, working with state-of-the-art electron microscopes and processing data. Working on my own project, organising my time, daily tasks and solving problems will definitely help me when working on future projects. During my placement I worked alongside incredible scientists from various fields across Diamond, which has further expanded my knowledge and interests.

I have also become a co-author on a review article (A review of the approaches used to solve sub-100 kDa membrane proteins by cryo-electron microscopy) and presented it as a poster at the annual CCP-EM meeting. My year will culminate at the end of September, when I give an oral presentation at an international conference to share my findings from this year. I would like to thank the University of Aberdeen for financial support to attend this conference. I hope my data will help other researchers in this field to understand the disease better, to ultimately develop a treatment and cure in the future.

My placement year was an amazing experience which allowed me to develop both personally and professionally. I would encourage everyone to undertake a placement year!

Published by The School of Medicine, Medical Sciences and Nutrition, University of Aberdeen

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