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£6m electron microscope at MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge among government’s £103m World Class Labs investment





The latest cryo-electron microscope, that enables proteins to be seen in atomic detail, has been installed at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge as part of a £103million government investment across a host of leading UK science institutions.

The Secretary of State for Science, Innovation Technology, Chloe Smith, visited the famous laboratory last week to announce the funding. The LMB has been given £8m, including £6m for its new microscope.

. Picture: Keith Heppell
. Picture: Keith Heppell

Ms Smith, who was on her first official visit since taking on the role on a maternity cover basis from Michelle Donelan, told the Cambridge Independent: “It’s absolutely fantastic to see what is going on at the lab. It’s inspiring to see nothing less than the history of science laid out here and the cutting-edge of where we can be today, using the microscope that has been bought with the World Class Labs funding.

“We can clearly see how £103million in funding is able to have an effect on some of the dreadful diseases that we experience today. In particular here, Alzheimer’s and dementia research is getting a real boost by having the imaging technology available through this microscope and I’ve been shown that today by researchers.

“It’s inspiring as well to see the dedication of the researchers and the way the entire community here at the lab on what can be done by pushing the boundaries and in terms of real-world impact from science.”

LMB director Jan Löwe shows Secretary of State Chloe Smith an electron microscope. Picture: Keith Heppell
LMB director Jan Löwe shows Secretary of State Chloe Smith an electron microscope. Picture: Keith Heppell

Ms Smith met the LMB director Jan Lowe and saw the new technology - the fourth cryo-electron microscope at the lab - which will help scientists to study the structures of biological molecules, such as proteins and viruses, at extremely high resolution.

The Secretary of State described the role of science and technology on the UK’s economy and in improving people’s lives as “absolutely vital”, adding: “That’s why we’ve set up the new Department for Science, Innovation and Technology. You can see this clear commitment from the Prime Minister to ensure Britain remains a science superpower.”

She said there was a focus on critical technologies along with sectors including life science “where Cambridge has a real strength”.

Madeline Lancaster, group leader in the LMB's Cell Biology Division, with Secretary of State Chloe Smith.Picture: Keith Heppell
Madeline Lancaster, group leader in the LMB's Cell Biology Division, with Secretary of State Chloe Smith.Picture: Keith Heppell

“We think this is vital and really well illustrated in Cambridgeshire, because we know that public investment - taxpayers’ money - can also help to lever in private investment. That is how we achieve growth in the economy and how we achieve innovation and bold new discoveries that will change the lives of our children and grandchildren, or indeed, our lives.

“It’s really great to see an example of that in Cambridge today.”

“We are working hard on those negotiations and we’re very clear that our preference is to associate. WE have also been clear that we need to do this on the basis of a fair deal for British researchers, taxpayers and businesses, and that is because of the lasting effects of the two years of delay on the EU side to association negotiation. My hope is the negotiations will be successful, but nonetheless we have taken the opportunity to work very closely with the sector in setting out a bold and ambitious alternative, called Pioneer. We know that’s a sensible additiona from which people can take confidence that we are supportive of British science.

Secretary of State Chloe Smith visits the LMB in Cambridge. Picture: Keith Heppell
Secretary of State Chloe Smith visits the LMB in Cambridge. Picture: Keith Heppell

The government said its investment “will ensure UK researchers have access to the best labs and equipment they need to keep producing world-class science, helping to support world-changing scientific breakthroughs that can benefit us all while also meeting the PM’s priority to grow the economy and create jobs across the UK”.

It comprises £79.3m as part of the £150m in funding announced to address the impacts of the ongoing delay in UK association to the EU’s Horizon Europe programme, plus £23.7m as part of the £370m announcement designed “to forge a better Britain through investment in science and technology”.

Ms Smith added: “Our world-class science and technology sectors are the engine for growth in the UK economy, and the basis for scientific and technological advancements that will improve everyone’s lives.

“These sectors need continued, concentrated backing from the government and I am determined to provide it during my time as Science and Technology Secretary, through funding such as this, which will ensure our world class labs have the infrastructure and equipment to match their status.”

The LMB’S Sjors Scheres with Secretary of State Chloe Smith. Picture: Keith Heppell
The LMB’S Sjors Scheres with Secretary of State Chloe Smith. Picture: Keith Heppell

The money will also help fund a new sediment core scanner at the National Oceanography Centre’s state-of-the-art deep-sea research facility and cutting edge facilities that will pioneer a new approach to preserving, promoting and progressing cultural heritage through technologies such as AI, blockchain and the metaverse at the UK Digital Heritage Centre at the University of Liverpool.

Money also went to facilities in Durham, Edinburgh, Leicester, Bristol, Hull, Nottingham, Glasgow, London, Manchester, Belfast and Warwick.

Ms Smith said she welcomed the opportunity to step into her new role, not least because it was a maternity cover position.

“This is unusual - this is only the second time this has been done in the cabinet. I think it’s vital that we make this normal and that you can take parental leave at the highest levels.

“I’ve had my children while I’ve been a MP and a minister. I hope we are role modelling here the modern ways of working that will ensure that public service is open to all and that science and technology is supportive throughout.”



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