At the end of 2019, six Masaryk University projects received a grant of over 26,000 euros to modernise and increase the capacity of the research infrastructures. Most of the budget, almost 22,200 euros, will be used to update the equipment at the CEITEC MU research institute.
The investment will help extend the equipment lifespan and, most importantly, maintain excellence in research at MUNI and the rest of the Czech Republic. This is because most of the equipment that is being updated is part of the shared laboratories, which are labs that are open to researchers from Masaryk University as well as other research institutions and companies. Another research centre that will receive funding to update its infrastructure is RECETOX, which is engaged in the research of toxic compounds in the environment.
Jiří Nantl, the director of CEITEC MU, pointed out that when it comes to the management of research infrastructure, CEITEC is currently the leading Czech research institution: “The administration and management of our key laboratories are separated from the individual research teams to help ensure that they are shared and used as efficiently as possible. We have a clearly formulated user policy and we know how each device is used and how much it costs. And we are sharing our experience with the rest of Masaryk University and our Czech research partners as much as possible.”
And Vladimír Sklenář, a member of the CEITEC MU leadership team in charge of research infrastructure, adds: “The shared labs at large research infrastructures make it possible to purchase, finance and maintain special equipment that would be prohibitively expensive for a single research institution, whether it is a university or an institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences. The lab staff responsible for operating the equipment can also provide assistance with measuring and data processing. The equipment, professional operators and interpretation of the resulting data are all available to the wider research community to use for their own research projects.”
The project that received the largest amount is the Czech Infrastructure for Integrative Structural Biology and is directed at the study of the spatial organisation of biomolecules. Understanding the atomic structure of molecules such as proteins and viruses and their changes in time is essential for understanding their function in the human body or, in the case of viruses, for understanding how they infect cells, which can then be used to identify treatment or preventive measures for various diseases. In the case of plants, such knowledge can lay the groundwork for research into potential ways of improving the plants’ resistance to climate change. The budget will be used to update some of the equipment of the ten shared laboratories and to purchase new cryo-electron microscopy technologies. These methods have already been successfully used by MU scientists to describe the structure of honeybee viruses and bacteriophages that attack the infectious bacterium Staphylococcus aureus.
Another infrastructure to be modernised is the National Infrastructure for Biological and Medical Imaging, also called Czech-BioImaging, which provides access to cutting-edge imaging technologies and devices for image data analysis used by experts from a wide range of Czech research organisations. Sharing data and technologies will enhance the quality of biomedical research and improve the options for treating serious diseases. Moreover, biomedical research is becoming increasingly interconnected with the study of the human genome, which is the specialisation of the National Centre for Medical Genomics. The centre will use some of the budget to expand its capacity for sequencing the human genome and analysing and securely storing the data obtained.
The other three projects that obtained funding from the EU programme to support large research infrastructures are part of the MU Faculty of Science. These include upgrading the research infrastructure of RECETOX, which focuses on studying toxic compounds in the environment, and modernising the National Infrastructure for Chemical Biology.