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X-probe Report Summary

Project ID: 637295
Funded under: H2020-EU.1.3.1.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - X-probe (Advanced XFEL and Synchrotron based Probes of Protein Structure and Dynamics)

Reporting period: 2015-01-01 to 2016-12-31

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

In the cross-disciplinary X-Probe MSCA ITN we build upon the transformative opportunities created by current X-ray sources and of the new ones soon to be operative in Europe and worldwide: no lag has to exist between building new sources and training a new generation of scientists for the next generation of X-ray facilities. X-probe will impact on understanding of protein conformational dynamics from femtoseconds to seconds: one of the most challenging problems in structural biology, and yield technological advancements in diverse fields, from pharmacology to nanotechnology. These opportunities include developing serial approaches at synchrotron radiation facilities to pursue time-resolved diffraction studies of irreversible protein reactions; and the revolutionary possibilities created by X-ray Free Electron Lasers, which combine ultrafast X-ray pulses with high brilliance focusing capabilities to create an entirely new regime of pre-damage time-resolved serial femtosecond crystallography on unprecedented time-scales.
Exploitation of these changing technical capabilities requires interdisciplinary collaboration between structural biologists, physical chemists, beamline engineers, software developers and industrial partners. Rapid changes in the state-of-the-art demand that young researchers are trained to meet new experimental, technical and analysis challenges at the forefronts of structural biology. X-probe addresses this challenge through an interdisciplinary and intersectorial training network incorporating protein micro-crystallisation, sample manipulation, beamline development, micro-focus diffraction, software development, time-resolved diffraction, time-resolved wide angle X-ray scattering, and serial femtosecond crystallography. On-site scientific training and seamless industrial participation will be complemented with a scientific mentoring program and training in areas such as strategic project planning, intellectual property, commercialisation and communication skills. We will deliver a young team of motivated researchers trained to develop new tools for extracting new insights in protein structural dynamics from femtoseconds to second that exploit the extreme X-ray brilliance of current and developing X-ray user facilities.
The very relevant European investments into the European XFEL and SwissFEl as well as state of the art synchrotron radiation sources demand training of young scientists to fully exploit the scientific and technological avenues opened by this European and national effort, we aim at developing a synergistic approach with technologically advanced enterprises to allow ESRs to convert knowledge and ideas into products and services for society and their own benefit.

Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far

The Network has striven towards the study of protein dynamics, the development of state-of-the-art infrastructures and software suites for the use of the European and global scientific and industrial community and for the development of the activities of the Industrial Partners.
The main results are: advancements in the production of integrated software suites for time resolved protein studies at synchrotron and XFEL, production of engineered proteins for theranostics and their studies by time resolved methods at synchrotron and XFELs, advanced commissioning of time resolved synchrotron sources and implementation of new methods for data collection and analysis at existing ones, development of methodologies for production and analysis of micro and nano-crystals.
Ten ESRs have been recruited enhancing transnational mobility in the EU and attracting brilliant young scientists with outstanding potential from non-EU Countries. Five training events took place on ”Frontier methods for visualizing proteins structural dynamics and their applications”, “Protein Structural dynamics: biological systems and experimental strategies”, “Commercialization of science”, “Project management and transferable skills” and “Serial crystallography at FELs and synchrotrons”, including hands-on training. The ESRs have formed a team and are in contact, with a positive and supportive attitude, they have benefited of several joint experimental. Collaborations have been cemented and new collaborations have been established also at the intersectorial level.
Dissemination activities have been carried out, at 14 scientific events, including presentations by the ESRs (ECM-30 and DESY Photon Science and XFEL Users Meeting). Outreach activities to communicate about the network, the scientific relevance of protein dynamics studies at synchrotron and XFEL and about MSCA-H2020 actions include an event targeted to schools (Rome), events at Open Door Days at synchrotrons (Hamburg, Villigen) and a talk given by one of the ESRs at a Marie Curie Day (Gothenburg).

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

The action has led to a diverse research network, with synergy for developing research and training of young researchers to exploit the new frontiers of protein dynamics studies opened by the new generation X-ray sources in Europe and worldwide. ESRs will benefit from training from host institutions, with each of them having an outstanding international reputation for innovation and high-impact science. Within X-PROBE, the recruitment will enable a PhD to launch a research career within industry or Academia, providing excellent support with scientifically strong supervisors as well as academic and industrial mentors. The ESRs are achieving a multidisciplinary training in the context of a state-of-the-art collaboration. Structural biologists are confronted with training in use of advanced beam lines and computational tools and the developing facilities are confronted with biological cases that constitute a benchmark for future applications. The panel of complementary skills (project writing, patenting, applied research) as well as the career development plan prepared on the basis of a rigorous analysis of training needs is one of the pillars of the action to provide the ESRs and the European Research Area with a productive assets for pure and applied research. The Institutions are clearly benefiting of the synergistic collaborations established, including training events that are going to be opened to a small but significant number of external participants. This will increase the awareness towards a multifaceted, complementary skill comprehensive approach in training. The dissemination activities, aimed at increasing the general public awareness on the impact and development of frontier scientific methods in the European Area and at the involvement of schools, complete the efficacy of the action. Care has been taken to advertise the MSCA H2020 Action to increase the general public awareness. X-PROBE is pushing back the barriers at the forefront of a fast growing research field, which attracts considerable attention in the scientific community. Moreover, the ESRs will be uniquely trained for the revolutionary developments created by the next generation of X-ray sources. The ESRs expected graduation coincides with the European X-ray free electron lasers (EU-FEL and Swiss FEL) coming into user operation. This will massively increase Europe’s demand and capacity for Young Scientists Trained in X-FEL science and X-probe trained scientists will be in high demand in European academic laboratories as well as in the private sector.

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