FCT NOVA receives 2.5 million Euro funding for research in Electronic Crio-Microscopy


NOVA School of Science and Technology has been granted a 2.5 million euros funding by the European Union, under the ERA Chairs Actions initiative, for the establishment of the first research group in Portugal in the area of Electronic Crio-Microscopy (cryoEM) for Structural Biology.

Integrated in the Applied Biomolecular Sciences Unit (UCIBIO-i4HB) of FCT NOVA, the CryoEM@NOVA project is coordinated by the Principal Investigator Hartmut Luecke and aims, over the next five years, to implement and train its researchers in cryoEM, an area with a significant impact on the biological sciences.

The CryoEM@NOVA project was developed in collaboration with Maria João Romão, professor at the Chemistry Department of FCT NOVA and Director of UCIBIO, who coordinates the project's implementation, together with Eurico Cabrita and Ana Luísa Carvalho, integrated members of UCIBIO. "The funding is vitally important not only for our research unit (UCIBIO) and associated laboratory i4HB, but also for Portugal, as it will allow the creation of the first specialized group in cryoEM dedicated to research and training in this cutting-edge technique for Structural Biology. Complementing with our experience in X-Ray Crystallography and Nuclear Magnetic Resonance, it will be an excellent unique opportunity to prepare new national and foreign researchers in Structural Biology", highlights Maria João Romão.

Structural Biology is essential for to the understanding, at the atomic level, the structure-function relationship in biological systems, and indispensable for the discovery of new drugs, with a transversal impact in multiple areas from healthcare? to environment. The traditional methods of Structural Biology have been X-Ray Crystallography and Nuclear Magnetic Resonance, but in recent years, the effort dedicated to improve the speed and efficiency in the determination of 3D structures of biological macromolecules has contributed to the exponential growth of the use of Cryo-Microscopy. Cryo-Microscopy This is a technique for imaging biological samples at very low temperatures (typically -196 ºC) which allows researchers to obtain structural and functional information of large protein complexes in a near-native state, which other structural biology methods do not allow.

CryoEM has been used to determine the high-resolution structures of several viruses, including SARS-CoV-2 which causes COVID-19. This structural information enables scientists to understand the mechanism by which viruses infect cells and is the basis for developing more effective treatments. Other applications include determining the structure of protein complexes involved in Alzheimer's disease, cancer or cystic fibrosis, contributing to the understanding of the molecular mechanism of these pathologies and identifying possible targets for the development of new drugs. This enormous potential was recognised with the award of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, in 2017, and has been accompanied by a large growth in the number of cryoEM infrastructures around the world.

The new team will constitute the FCT NOVA pole of the CryoEM-PT consortium, ofpart of the current National Roadmap of Research Infrastructures, of the Foundation for Science and Technology. Integrated in the CryoEM-PT network, the FCT NOVA cluster will support the preparation, expedition and processing of cryoEM data from samples of users of the first Electronic Crio-Microscope in Portuguese territory, that will be installed in the International Iberian Nanotechnology Laboratory (INL), located in Braga, with its inaugurationed scheduled for February 2023.

The ERA Chairs Actions initiative is a funding mechanism of the European Commission that supports higher education and research institutions, in order to attract and retain qualified human resources with the aim of enhancing research excellence in their areas of action.



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