Pushing the boundaries of imaging technologies: the IMAGINE project

The European Research Infrastructure of Integrated Structural Biology (Instruct-ERIC) is part of a consortium that has secured EU funding to develop the next generation of imaging technologies, and make them available to the research community.
Pushing the boundaries of imaging technologies: the IMAGINE project

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IMAGINE project logo

Nowadays, first proof-of-concept shows that the components, machines, architectures, and gateways of cells can be imaged at almost atomic detail. The EU-funded IMAGINE project aims to push the boundaries of such imaging technology. It will advance workflows for imaging equipment and machinery and help life scientists to further explore the crucial questions facing humanity and beyond.

The €10 million project brings together 22 organisations and 13 countries to share expertise and cooperate on developing the next generation of imaging technologies and equipment. The project is led by EMBL. Instruct-ERIC (the European Research Infrastructure of Integrated Structural Biology) plays a key role in the consortium, demonstrating the importance of the highest quality imaging technology to the structural biology community.

Harald Schwalbe, Instruct-ERIC Director, noted that, "If imaging technologies would become available for all cell types and all research areas for every European scientists, then a dream that was deemed impossible only five years ago has been realised."

The project focuses on new developments in the fields of X-ray imaging, cryo-electron microscopy, super-resolution microscopy, and intravital microscopy, as well as field-deployed microscopy tools and methods that can image or natively preserve live cells in their natural environments.

Instruct-ERIC has years of experience in providing access to advanced imaging techniques, in the fields of X-ray technology, cryo-EM, and cell imaging services. With 27 imaging services across Europe available through Instruct, the team is well placed to understand the problems facing life scientists, and to find the niches required to enhance and revolutionise the field of imaging technologies.

Instruct will work closely with Euro-BioImaging and EMBRC, specifically aiming to develop tools that take us a step closer to being able to link structural determination at the atomic level with biological function.

IMAGINE will also explore data management solutions to integrate different imaging data. Instruct has several partnerships with data management projects and institutions as part of EOSC activities – transferring these solutions to the IMAGINE project will be fundamental to ensure the sustainability of the project and its outcomes. The integration of new workflows and data types require increased interoperability, so the combined expertise of various data management specialists will allow the team to align technologies with data solutions.

Instruct will also have the opportunity to collaborate with commercial partners, drawing on their expertise in imaging and technology development, to help advance the structural biology field both for academia and industry.

Additionally, IMAGINE will extend beyond tool building to include new approaches that connect several imaging modalities and AI-powered image analysis, as well as new ways to manage the large amounts of data these technologies generate. AI is something that Instruct is heavily involved with, particularly with respect to the AlphaFold system developed by EMBL-EBI and DeepMind that has had such a profound effect on the structural biology field.

The resulting technologies borne from the project will then be made available to researchers worldwide through Instruct-ERIC, advancing structural analysis, and having significant benefits for the wider research community.

Group photo from above showing the team involved in the IMAGINE project kick-off meeting.
The team involved in the IMAGINE project kick-off meeting.

Images by Instruct-ERIC

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