Director's Blog - 4 February 2019 - Power of platforms..

It’s deceptively quiet at the Institute at the moment, as many of us bunker down in our offices, intensely preparing research grant applications for government funding through the ARC and NHMRC. It is a ritual our community engages in during the summer months (and now stretching into Autumn!)  each year, which provides the opportunity to formulate our visions and scientific ideas, yet is a fraught process feeding anxiety, paranoia and tinged with frustration due to low National success rates and changed application forms. To gain the competitive advantage, as scientists we not only need innovative ideas, but also need to demonstrate the power of our collaborations and the tools we have at our disposal that are needed to make ground-breaking discoveries.

The Bio21 research environment, with its well-resourced platform technology facilities, that house powerful research instruments, deserves a mention and doing so can strengthen grant applications from Bio21 members. I would encourage everyone to highlight the platforms by name rather than just specific instruments within them to demonstrate the rich environment we have around us.

Some of our facilities represent the largest of their kind in Australia, much of it cutting edge and many led by highly regarded national experts in their respective technologies. Much of the instrumentation has been supported through government grants, such as the ARC LIEF grants. Some of our recent international academic visitors and potential recruits to the University were clearly blown away by the scale of our facilities. Indeed, a senior scientist from a neighbouring institute likened Bio21 to the Tardis; small on the outside but full of amazing technology inside.

So, here’s a brief reminder of resources at your doorstep, as well as the contact details of the platform managers who are happy to engage in a conversation with you about your experimental plans and how to harness the instruments in their facilities.

Our Margaret Sheil laboratories in the Nancy Millis building house the Melbourne Mass Spectrometry and Proteomics platform and Metabolomics Australia platform, with a total of over 30 mass spectrometers.

Melbourne Mass Spectrometry and Proteomics, with its fleet of eight mass spectrometers and seven HPLC instruments, as well as sample preparation instruments makes it possible to conduct proteomic, lipidomic and metabolomics analyses of samples, as a powerful way to identify biomarkers of diseases, as well as measure the impact of potential therapeutic candidates. A recent addition to the laboratories, through a collaboration with the Doherty Institute, is an ICP-mass spectrometer that can identify metal ions at very low concentrations in biological samples. Please contact nawill [at] (Nick Williamson).

Metabolomics Australia, also housed in the Margaret Sheil laboratories at Bio21, comprises the combination of high-throughput analytical technologies for the detection and quantification of metabolites in biological systems with the application of sophisticated bioinformatic tools for data mining and analysis. The most commonly used platforms for the detection and measurement of metabolites involves the use of gas chromatography, liquid chromatography, or capillary electrophoresis coupled with mass spectrometry. These analyses can be very powerful for biomedical and environmental research. Please contact dedreia [at] (Dee Tull).

Melbourne Magnetic Resonance is home to nine magnetic resonance spectrometers, with a tenth one on the way for fragment-screening purposes. This suite of instruments includes 400, 500, 600, 700 and 800 MHz magnetic resonance spectrometers and a DNP solid-state dynamic nuclear polarization-enhanced NMR system to make increasingly sensitive measurements of samples from small molecules through to large proteins, in solution, but also as solids in more physiological conditions. Please contact bio21-magres [at] (Sunnia Rajput).

The Melbourne Advanced Microscopy platform is bursting at the seams with high end electron microscopes. It is housing four TEMs, amongst which 3 cryo TEMs. It is also equipped with 2 SEMs and a dual beam microscope. The ThermoFisher FEI Talos Artica cryo EM has already led to a number of atomic resolution protein structures despite only being commissioned a year ago. We now look forward to new cutting edge technology in 2020 with the arrival of a 300 keV cryo EM (ThermoFisher FEI Titan Krios) and cryo FIB instrument (ThermoFisher FEI Aquilos) for tomography allowing imaging of structures in their native environment. The Bio21 Institute also has several high end optical microscopes with confocal microscopes and super resolution systems as well as sample preparation equipment as part of the University of Melbourne's Biological Optical Microscopy Platform (BOMP). A new facility will be built to house the electron microscopes and will provide much needed space and the opportunity for further expansion. Please contact ehanssen [at] (Eric Hanssen).

Melbourne Protein Characterisation (MPC) will be a key resource within Bio21 for studying protein function and interactions as well as supporting the other platforms through the production of well characterised proteins for further analysis. The platform which is nearing completion, will be comprised of three facilities, to support protein discovery research: 1. Protein Production, 2. Protein Characterisation and Interaction and 3. X-ray diffraction. Protein Production will focus on insect and mammalian cell protein expression and is so far equipped with a Biostat twin control tower with rocker and cross-flow system. The Protein Characterisation and Interaction facility contains analytical ultracentrifuges, fluorescence spectrophotometers, UV-Vis absorbance spectrophotometers, isothermal titration calorimeters, circular dichroism spectrometers, dynamic light scattering zetasizer, biolayer interferometer, microscale thermophoresis, and differential scanning calorimeter. The facility will soon be complemented by Biacore surface plasmon resonance with funds from the recent successful ACRF grant. The X-ray Diffraction lab has been fitted out with a Rigaku Synergy-S X-ray diffractometer for both protein and small molecule studies and a PX Scanner. A suite of protein crystallisation robots will be added over the next year. For information about using the facility please contact bio21-mpc [at] (Yan Hong Tan).

Bio21 Research Systems Infrastructure has recently set up a high performance cluster with a mix of cpu and gpu nodes to support our platforms and researchers at Bio21. For more information about using the new cluster please contact the bio21-it [at] (Thu Nguyen.)

Another competitive edge of Bio21 to mention in grant applications is our co-location with our industry tenants including CSL (biological therapeutics), Rhythm Biosciences (diagnostics), SYNthesis Research and med chem (medical chemistry), Prana Biotech (medicinal chemistry applied to neurodegenerative diseases) and Circa Group (chemistry of bio-derived products).

Complementing each other the instruments housed in Bio21’s platform facilities, are an incredible resource to the Bio21 scientific community. They allow us to make the invisible visible; to reveal a molecular world for us to discover, to understand and to harness for new technologies.

Professor Michael Parker
Director, Bio21 Institute