Sam’s secondment in Grenoble

– What is the purpose of this secondment?

The purpose of my secondment at the Institute for Structural Biology in Grenoble, France is to try to grow large crystals of SERCA for NMX studies using some of the specialised equipment they have here, in particular an apparatus which allows the temperature of the crystallisation mixture to be finely controlled. The idea is to alter the protein solubility of the mixture by changing the temperature – this means that you can adjust the conditions to the point where the protein contained within the solution will be added to the mass of the existing crystal (or crystals) instead of coming out of the solution as new crystals. The result is a few very large crystals instead of many smaller crystals.

– What added value(s) do you think this secondment will bring to your PhD?

I think this secondment will be valuable as I will get to explore how temperature changes the behavior of the SERCA system under crystallisation conditions. This is a parameter that cannot easily be explored using the equipment I have access to at my home institute, and any knowledge I can gain in this respect will be very useful. Also, it’s always an amazing experience to go to another lab within another country – it’s refreshing to work in another environment and you meet so many great people!

– What do you miss most from your home institute /city?

There is always a bit of inconvenience involved when temporarily living and working in a foreign city. You have to get used to new accommodation, food, transport, and find your way around an unfamiliar workplace, so you miss the familiarity of home. But you quickly get used to the new environment and settle into a routine (and there’s always someone to help if need be). Also, I don’t have to worry about high temperatures in Denmark – as opposed to the heatwave that recently passed through Grenoble!.

– How is the city you’re staying in? What would you recommend to anyone listening?

Grenoble, being located at the foot of the French Alps, offers a beautiful setting as the entire city is surrounded by the mountains. It’s an amazing place to go hiking or mountain climbing and there are a lot of scenic towns in the area that are just a short bus trip away. Also, as a whole the weather here is really nice, with most days being sunny and warm.

-Would you prefer to spend more or less time in your secondment as to the research work you are doing / had to do?

I think 2 months is probably a good amount of time with respect to the research I have to do – it gives me enough time to get everything set up and then try enough experiments to get a good idea of what the effects of temperature are. Also, it gives enough time to hopefully produce some very large SERCA crystals…

– It is was possible, would you like to go back? If yes, how long? What for?

If given the opportunity, I would gladly come back for any amount of time. If I end up with SERCA crystals that are large enough for neutron diffraction studies, I will probably have to come here again to test them (currently the best neutron source in Europe for studying large protein crystals is the Institut Laue-Langevin located right here in Grenoble). There’s also the possibly that a future protein crystallography project of mine might require a trip here too.

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