Diffraction instrumentation team
The Cipriani team develops instruments and methods for X-ray scattering experiments and works with industry to make them available to scientists worldwide.
Previous and current research
he core activity of our team is to develop instruments and methods for X-ray scattering experiments in collaboration with the Márquez team and with the ESRF Structural Biology group, as well as contributing to the development of the EMBL@PETRA-III beamlines. Benefiting from the support of EMBLEM, our mission is also to make our instruments available to the scientific community worldwide.
In line with the work done over the past decade in micro-crystallography, we have developed, in collaboration with EMBL Hamburg, a vertical Kappa diffractometer able to process micron-sized crystals. The MD3 prototype installed at the EMBL@PETRA3 MX2 beamline exhibits sub-micron stability at sample position. The quality of data obtained from shutterless 4D scans over thin needles has demonstrated the exceptional dynamic performance of the new goniometer. Concluding an EMBL/ESRF collaborative project started in 2008, we have equipped the EMBL@PETRA3 BioSAXS beamline with a fast automated sample changer. At the ESRF, a high-performance liquid chromatography system has been integrated to the BM29 BioSAXS beamline to characterise difficult proteins (part-supported through the EU-funded BioStruct-X programme).
Our current work mainly focuses on the development of an automated crystal harvesting system based on CrystalDirect™, a concept, conceived jointly with the Márquez team, where crystals grown on a thin film in a new vapour diffusion crystallisation plate are recovered by laser photo ablation (see figure). Chemical treatments like cryo-protection can be applied to crystals directly in the plates, before harvesting. CrystalDirect (CD) plates have been produced and a harvester prototype built. Model proteins and a number of new proteins have been crystallised, cryo-protected, harvested and successfully processed at MX beamlines. The CD plates are also ideal for in-situ X-ray crystal screening. A specific goniometer head was developed to process CD plates at the EMBL/ESRF BM14 beamline. Data with exceptionally low background was obtained, demonstrating the potential of the CD plates for screening micro-crystals in-situ.
Studies are ongoing to develop a compact and precise sample holder for frozen crystals. This new standard should reduce sample handling effort and further facilitate crystal alignment at beamlines, in particular when associated with automated harvesting systems like CD. Lead by the EMBL Grenoble, this collaborative project, called ‘NewPin’, is part-supported by BioStruct-X.
Future projects and goals
Our short-term plan is to open a crystal harvesting platform and a service for in-situ crystal screening. A new harvester with extended crystal treatment capabilities will be developed for projects involving ligands or derivatives. In the context of the ESRF–MASSIF upgrade program, we plan to equip BM14 with industrial robotics to evaluate the integration of CD and to test ‘NewPin’. Our long-term ambition is to bridge, via CD, the Grenoble HTX lab and BM14 in a pilot automated MX facility that provides full remote service – from crystallisation to data collection.