SASKATOON – A research facility at the Canadian Light Source that has yielded insights into illnesses such as Parkinson’s disease, malaria, heart disease and cancer will receive a major upgrade thanks to a $3.3-million investment by the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI).

“Canadian researchers are among the top structural biologists worldwide and rely heavily on the tools at the CLS for their experiments,” said Miroslaw Cygler, University of Saskatchewan professor of biochemistry and Canada Research Chair in Molecular Medicine Using Synchrotron Light.

Science Associate Shaun Labiuk conducts an experiment on one of the two Canadian Macromolecular Crystallography Facility beamlines at the Canadian Light Source. CMCF is a hard X-ray beamline that specializes in protein, pharmaceutical, and life-science research.  
Photo courtesy of the University of Saskatchewan, available with a creative commons license in Flickr.

The CFI investment represents 40 per cent of the total $8.6 million upgrade to the national synchrotron, located on the U of S campus. The balance is to be contributed by federal government and provincial government partners across Canada, as well as the U of S and in-kind contributions from suppliers. The U of S is collaborating with eight universities from five provinces on the project.

“This major CFI investment will support cutting-edge academic and industrial research across Canada, enabling scientists to explore emerging frontiers in cell biology at the atomic level and discover new drugs to fight chronic and infectious diseases,” said Karen Chad, U of S vice-president research. “It’s fitting that this retooling of one of the world’s best X-ray diffraction beamlines, designed a decade ago,  is happening during the UN-proclaimed International Year of Light, a celebration of light-based technologies and their impact around the world.”

Specifically, the funds will pay for upgrades to the older of two beamlines that make up the Canadian Macromolecular Crystallography Facility (CMCF). Commissioned in 2006, the beamline produces high-intensity X-rays which are used to determine the 3-D structures of proteins. The upgrade will allow for brighter, more focused X-rays, and add faster, more sensitive detection capabilities.


“This beamline must continue evolving and keeping pace with new technologies and new challenges in structural biology,” Cygler said. “These upgrades will allow the CMCF to retain its place among the top facilities in the world.”

Knowing the shapes of proteins allows researchers to design molecules to detect disease and develop new drugs and therapies. Applications range from medicine and biotechnology to green chemistry solutions to reduce impact on the environment.

To date, researchers using the CMCF have determined the 3-D structures of nearly 600 proteins, contributing their data to the international Protein Data Bank. The work of these Canadian researchers has appeared in some of the world’s top scientific journals, including New England Journal of Medicine, NatureScience, and Cell. About 75 scientists from across Canada, along with their staff and students, regularly use the CMCF. Several international researchers, as well as important commercial clients, also use the facility either in person or remotely.

The CMCF upgrade project is among $333 million in CFI infrastructure investments across Canada announced by the federal government today.


About the Canadian Light Source Inc.:

The CLS is the brightest light in Canada—millions of times brighter than even the sun—used by scientists to get incredibly detailed information about the structural and chemical properties of materials at the molecular level, with work ranging from mine tailing remediation to cancer research and cutting-edge materials development.

The CLS has hosted over 2,500 researchers from academic institutions, government, and industry from 10 provinces and 2 territories; delivered over 40,000 experimental shifts; received over 10,000 user visits; and provided a scientific service critical in over 1,500 scientific publications, since beginning operations in 2005. The CLS has over 200 full-time employees.

CLS operations are funded by Canada Foundation for Innovation, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, Western Economic Diversification Canada, National Research Council of Canada, Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Government of Saskatchewan and the University of Saskatchewan.

For more information visit the CLS website or contact:

Mark Ferguson 
Communications Coordinator 
1 (306) 657-3739

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