HPC & MTTC establish Cryo-EM technology @Helmholtz Munich

Structural biology techniques such as X-ray crystallography, nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy and cryo-electron microscopy single-particle analysis (cryo-EM SPA) provide unique insights into the molecular mechanisms of biological processes and accelerate structure-based drug discovery.

For this, high-resolution structures of biological molecules are obtained from in vitro purified biomolecules purified in vitro, making it difficult to study macromolecular complexes or subcellular compartments in their native environment.

In a POF-driven, cross-departmental collaboration, the Helmholtz Pioneer Campus and the Molecular Target and Therapies Center facilitated the implementation of in situ cryo-electron tomography (cryo-ET), a globally emerging, new technology that allows the visualization of cellular structures in their natural and functional environment at molecular resolution. Cryo-ET will be at the heart of the new Helmholtz Munich Cryo-EM Platform (CEMP), a multimillion-euro investment including state-of-the-art cryo-EM and 1.2 GHz ultra-highfield NMR spectroscopy – establishing Helmholtz Munich as one of a few global institutions to provide the full spectrum of atomic resolution structural technologies to its scientists and interested partners.

Prof. Michael Sattler, Head of the Molecular Targets and Therapeutics Center and Director of the Institute of Structural Biology at Helmholtz Munich, comments: “We expect unprecedented insight into a vast array of biomolecular structures in their native environment in healthy and disease-linked states, thereby enabling the development of completely novel therapeutic approaches.”

Marion Jasnin, Principal Investigator of the Cryoskeleton Labat the Helmholtz Pioneer Campus leads the implementation of the cryo-ET workflow. She was recently recruited from Prof. Baumeister’s lab (MPI Martinsried), one of the globally recognized pioneers of cryo-ET, succeeding Ben Engel who championed this technology, and brought it to HGMU. Marion also accelerates her own research program that investigates actin, a small globular protein, and its associated cytoskeletal proteins to advance our understanding of the underlying biology as well as disease mechanisms, in particular tumor cell invasion.

How will the Helmholtz Munich Cryo-EM Platform be used?

Many research groups at Helmholtz Munich have already established collaborations and (will) have access to the cryo-EM technologies at the Helmholtz Munich CEMP. Further, a cooperation on structural biology applications is currently being established with the Technical University of Munich (TUM School of Natural Sciences, Department of Bioscience, and Center for functional Protein Assemblies (CPA)). The Helmholtz Munich CEMP, managed by Dr. Stefan Bohn, will thus be used to study emerging topics in biomedical research, ranging from stem cell, diabetes and environmental health to molecular targets and therapeutics. In addition, the unique expertise in AI-based computational tools for image analysis available at the Computational Health Center and Helmholtz AI is expected to transform currently complex cryo-ET into a commodity for in-cell structural biology applications. 

We are delighted to acknowledge the support of many dedicated staff, to name in particular Dr. Manuela Hartmann from the Helmholtz Pioneer Campus and many colleagues from the infrastructure, purchasing, finance and legal departments. Not the least, we express our gratitude to Dr. Ben Engel, now at BioCenter Basel, for initiating the cryo-ET endeavor @HelmholtzMunich’s Pioneer Campus.  

 see Helmholtz Munich press release