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Canadian Light Source enabling research insights in range of fields

The Canadian Light Source synchrotron at the University of Saskatchewan is a world-leading resource that allows scientists from a range of fields to study the structure of matterSUPPLIED

From the discovery of an enzyme able to turn any blood into a universal donor type to combating COVID-19 and identifying heat-tolerance traits in pea varieties, scientific advancements achieved at the Canadian Light Source (CLS) synchrotron at the University of Saskatchewan (USask) span various disciplines – and have the potential to change our way of life.

The CLS is a national research facility that produces light millions of times brighter than the sun, making it the go-to place for scientists looking to understand the structure of the matter they’re studying, whether that is a protein in a virus or residues in mining operations.

For example, Joanne Lemieux is working to develop inhibitors of a protein that allows a virus to replicate. Clinically similar antiviral drugs are used to treat viruses, such as HIV and Hepatitis C, and now her research group at the University of Alberta has set its sights on COVID-19.

The protein crystallography facility at the CLS allows Dr. Lemieux to use X-rays to visualize how her target protein looks at the molecular level in three dimensions – and then see how her inhibitors work. And thanks to the CLS’s remote research capabilities, her team was able to keep working through the pandemic, even when they could no longer travel.

“We ship our samples to the CLS and then use computers in Edmonton to get the robot at the CLS to put our protein crystals in the X-ray beam,” says Dr. Lemieux. “We collect our data and interpret it – all remotely.”


While drugs that slow viruses by inhibiting replication don’t replace vaccination, they should dampen symptoms in people who get COVID-19 and may also shorten the duration of symptoms.

Dr. Lemieux is just one of almost 1,000 researchers across Canada – from academia, industry and government – who use the CLS and conduct thousands of experiments annually.

Gianluigi Botton, science director at the CLS, is proud of the discoveries the CLS has enabled, including new insight into planet formations using data from satellites. COVID-19 research is being conducted by scientists from across Canada, as is research on many other diseases, including cancer, heart disease, malaria and multiple sclerosis.

Other research teams are using the CLS to improve crop production, create the batteries of the future and combat climate change, he says. “The amazing thing about the CLS is that it’s so diverse in terms of what we can analyze, from COVID-19 to bread and batteries and even plants and bones.”

Dr. Botton says the CLS wouldn’t exist without support from the Canada Foundation for Innovation, which was vital to its creation and funds 60 per cent of its operations. The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Innovation Saskatchewan and USask are also core funders.

“The synchrotron’s world-leading research enables discoveries that save and improve the lives of Canadians,” says Dr. Botton. “These advancements will become even more necessary as we face global challenges such as climate change, food and water security, or the next pandemic.”

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