SAXIER > Events > Remote SAXS Experiment

World's First Remote SAXS Experiment

May 26, 2009

At 12:00 CET on May 26, 2009, EMBL Hamburg linked up to the Nanyang Technological University's (NTU) School of Biological Science (SBS) in Singapore to conduct the world's first remote synchrotron small-angle X-ray scattering experiment. Members of the SAXS group from EMBL Hamburg traveled to Singapore to give a course on biological SAXS to students from the SBS. The first remote SAXS experiment was scheduled as part of the course and was watched by ca. 60 students, professors and local dignitaries. The samples prepared in the group of Prof. G. Grueber (SBS) have been sent by courier from Singapore to Hamburg in advance. The local EMBL team placed them into the automated liquid handling robot at the SAXS beamline X33 (storage ring DORIS, DESY). The team at the SBS could remotely control the beamline experiment from loading the sample through to data acquisition, automated data analysis and three-dimensional model building. Already the first data set collected yielded automatically within five minutes after the experiment, direct structural evidence about oligomeric organization and shape of the subunit F, responsible for the conformational transitions in ATP synthase, a protein a purified by Dr. Grueber's group.

This experiment is a major landmark in a series of developments aimed at establishing a completely automated SAXS experiment pipeline, which took place over the past several years in the SAXS group at EMBL Hamburg led by Dmitri Svergun. The project involved major contributions of Manfred Roessle, Daniel Franke, Peter Konarev, Maxim Petoukhov and Alexey Kikhney, but also of other members of the BioSAXS group, working on fully automating the data acquisition and interpretation of a solution SAXS experiment. This work was performed with support from the European Commission in the frame of SAXIER, a Design Study under the Infrastructure programme of FP6.

Whereas scientists have traditionally had to manually load and change their samples, the EMBL SAXS beamline on DORIS utilized an automated sample changer since September, 2007. The SAXS group is also developing major software packages for automated SAXS data interpretation, which are widely used in the scientific community worldwide. The ultimate goal is that the scientist will not have to travel to the synchrotron to do experiments, but can steer the entire experiment from his computer at the home institute. Robotic sample handling and remote access have already revolutionized the field of macromolecular crystallography, and, given the dramatically increased demand in synchrotron SAXS from biological solutions, automation of the solution SAXS experiment has become a must. The developments at the EMBL Hamburg will save time and funds, and significantly facilitate the access to the large scale SAXS facilities. The full automation and remote access will be even more important when the SAXS group moves to the more brilliant beams under construction at PETRA III, where a solution SAXS measurement would be a matter of seconds.

Dmitri Svergun greeting EMBL Hamburg from Singapore
A public remote SAXS experiment in the NTU lobby (Singapore). Left panel, remote access interface with cameras displaying the SAXS robot and the sample cell; right panel, a Skype window showing the members of the BioSAXS EMBL group monitoring the experiment in Hamburg.

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