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Titan bolsters Australia’s research arsenal

Australian researchers once had to queue in Europe and North America to get their hands on a Titan. Now, this giant of a machine is in our own backyard – and our best research talent only has to pop over to Clayton to take their turn.

The $7m FEI Titan Krios cryo-electron microscope is the latest toy at the Monash Ramaciotti Centre for Cryo-Electron Microscopy .

Standing at almost four metres  tall, weighing about a tonne and boasting a 300keV electron gun, the Titan is the first in Australia and the most advanced of its kind. It fills a huge research gap, because it can ‘see’ things that X-ray crystallography and the Australian Synchrotron cannot.

Already, researchers are lining up to use the Titan – with current projects looking at a range of human diseases, ranging from cancer to malaria and diabetes to rheumatism.

Researchers hope the Titan  will help them understand more about how our immune systems function, and to discover better treatments for these diseases.

An expert team based at the centre supports and collaborates with researchers who need to use electron microscopes in their work.

‘The key to understanding and treating these diseases lies in understanding how proteins and cells interact at the molecular level,’ says Professor James Whisstock, Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence in Advanced Molecular Imaging. And this is exactly what the Titan does.

Starting off with snap-frozen molecules, the microscope fires a stream of high-energy electrons right through the sample to form a 2D image. Repeating this process on hundreds of samples allows researchers to build a 3D picture of molecules.

The Titan resolves structures as small as a 10 millionth part of a millimetre, and you can see right inside a cell’s inner space to reveal the molecular  structures at the heart of immune response.

Some of the research already booked in for Titan includes looking at the role of the immune system in disease; how events at the cellular level drive the development of cancer; and how molecular transport systems move proteins and other cargo across cell membranes. In this age of ‘superbugs’, researchers are also trying to find out how bacteria become resistant to antibiotics.

The Titan is the latest addition to MTRP’s integrated network of 22 research facilities – from supercomputers to 3D visualisation facilities. All of these are centrally managed, providing seamless access to equipment, and we