Scientific Highlights


22 August 2018

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A biotechnological revolution

Biology Medical Science Human Health Radiopharmacy

Gebhard Schertler is head of the research division Biology and Chemistry at the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI and professor for Structural Biology at ETH Zurich. In this interview he talks about biological research at PSI and the future of drug development.

14 June 2018

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Biological light sensor filmed in action

Media Releases Biology SwissFEL

Using X-ray laser technology, a team led by researchers of the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI has recorded one of the fastest processes in biology. In doing so, they produced a molecular movie that reveals how the light sensor retinal is activated in a protein molecule. Such reactions occur in numerous organisms. The movie shows for the first time how a protein efficiently controls the reaction of the embedded light sensor.

30 May 2018

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Hollywood in the Würenlingen woods

SwissFEL Biology Large Research Facilities

With the X-ray laser SwissFEL, researchers at PSI want to produce movies of biomolecules in action. This can reveal how our eyes function or how new drugs work.


4 October 2017

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Highlighting the significance of structural analysis of biomolecules


The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2017 has been awarded to Jacques Dubochet of Switzerland, U.S.-based German scientist Joachim Frank, and Richard Henderson of the United Kingdom for the development of structural analysis of single biological molecules by means of cryo-electron microscopy. The awarding of the prize underscores the fundamental significance of structural analysis of biomolecules for modern biology – a research area where the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI plays a leading role in Switzerland.

23 February 2017

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In start-up companies, getting it done is a matter of survival

Biology Medical Science Human Health

A pharmaceuticals manager at Roche for a long time, now he is the founder of a biotech firm on the campus of the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI: Michael Hennig knows the trends in the medical sector. In this interview he explains why the medicine of the future needs the innovation power of publicly funded research, and why he chose to locate his start-up leadXpro so close to PSI.

31 January 2017

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In cold water

Human Health Medical Science Biology

Martin Ostermaier wanted to break out of the comfort zone of science. Now, instead of pipettes, the biochemist is dealing with investors and patent law.

2016 and older

23 December 2016


A three-dimensional movie of structural changes in bacteriorhodopsin

Snapshots of bacteriorhodopsin
Bacteriorhodopsin is a membrane protein that harvests the energy content from light to transport protons out of the cell against a transmembrane potential. Nango et al. used timeresolved serial femtosecond crystallography at an x-ray free electron laser to provide 13 structural snapshots of the conformational changes that occur in the nanoseconds to milliseconds after photoactivation. These changes begin at the active site, propagate toward the extracellular side of the protein, and mediate internal protonation exchanges that achieve proton transport.

22 August 2016

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Catching proteins in the act

Media Releases Large Research Facilities SwissFEL Biology Human Health

Proteins are indispensable building blocks of life. They play a vital role in many biological processes. Researchers have now been able to show how the ultrafast processes by which proteins do their work can be studied with free-electron X-ray lasers such as SwissFEL at the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI. Free-electron X-ray lasers generate extremely short and intense pulses of X-ray light. Currently there are just two such facilities in operation, worldwide. The results were published in the scientific journal Nature Communications.

29 June 2016

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To starve a tumour

Human Health Biology

PSI researcher Kurt Ballmer-Hofer is concerned with the question of how tumours could be starved by preventing the development of blood vessels. After 40 years of research that yielded many fundamental insights about the formation of blood vessels, one of the key molecules has been found; further research is expected to enable clinical applications.

23 May 2016


Centriolar CPAP/SAS-4 Imparts Slow Processive Microtubule Growth

Centrioles are fundamental and evolutionarily conserved microtubule-based organelles whose assembly is characterized by microtubule growth rates that are orders of magnitude slower than those of cytoplasmic microtubules. Here, we bring together crystallographic, biophysical, and reconstitution assays to demonstrate that the human centriolar protein CPAP (SAS-4 in worms and flies) binds and "caps" microtubule plus ends by associating with a site of β-tubulin engaged in longitudinal tubulin-tubulin interactions.

3. February 2016

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Probing what sets the heart racing

Media Releases Biology Human Health Medical Science

New insights into the workings of important drug receptors
Many medical drugs operate on specific receptors located in the outer walls of our body’s cells. One of these is called the beta-1 adrenergic receptor. Among other things, it is responsible for palpitation, the racing pulse that we feel with stage fright or infatuation. How it transmits signals to the cellular interior can now be revealed in detail. These findings could help scientists better understand many drugs' mode of action.

1 January 2016

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Determining the structures of nanocrystalline pharmaceuticals by electron diffraction

A new type of detector developed by Dr. van Genderen enables the structure determination of pharmaceutical compounds with electron diffraction at room temperature. The group concentrate on expanding this new technique to macromolecular compounds.

10. August 2015

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New details of the transmission of stimuli in living organisms unveiled

Media Releases Biology Human Health Medical Science

Researchers unveil new details of how cells in a living organism process stimuli. So-called G-proteins, which help conduct external stimuli that reach a cell into its interior, play a central role here. For the first time, the study shows which parts of the G-proteins are vital for their function. Researchers from the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI, ETH Zurich, the pharmaceutical company Roche and the British MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology report their results in the journals Nature and Nature Structural and Molecular Biology.

26. May 2015

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Together, not alone

Research Using Synchrotron Light Large Research Facilities SwissFEL Human Health

Decoding biomolecules at SwissFEL and SLS
Proteins are a coveted but stubborn research object. A method developed for x-ray free-electron lasers and PSI’s future SwissFEL should now help researchers to make good headway in this field. It involves x-raying many small, identical protein samples consecutively at short intervals, thereby avoiding the main problem that protein research has faced thus far: producing samples in a sufficient size.

17. November 2013


How botox binds to neurons

Media Releases Biology Research Using Synchrotron Light Human Health

Botox is a highly dangerous toxin that causes paralysis. In cosmetic applications it is used to temporarily eliminate wrinkles and in medicine as a treatment for migraine or to correct strabismus. An international research team has now established how the toxin molecule binds to the neuron whose activity is then blocked by the poison. The findings may be useful for the development of improved drugs with a lower risk of overdosage.

14. February 2013


A glimpse inside the control centres of cell communication

Media Releases Biology Human Health

Numerous processes taking place within our body, such as sight, smell or taste, are accomplished by an important family of sensors on cell surfaces, which are known as G protein-coupled receptors (GPCR). Researchers have now compared the hitherto known structures of GPCRs and discovered a stabilising framework of fine struts that is characteristic for the architecture of the entire GPCR family. Knowledge about this constructional feature, which has been conserved over the course of evolution, can be of significant assistance in the development of new pharmaceuticals.

3. January 2013


How stabilised cell fibres prevent cancer cell division

Media Releases Human Health Biology Research Using Synchrotron Light

Anti-cancer drugs are used under the heading of “Chemotherapeutics” to prevent cells from dividing. Because the cells in a growing tumour divide more frequently than others, tumour cells are damaged more severely. Scientists at the Paul Scherrer Institute and the ETH Zurich have now clarified the exact mechanism of action of one class of these drugs. The data acquired is so accurate, that targeted drugs could now be developed that are even better suited to fulfil their task.

10. October 2012


Nobelpreiswürdig: G-Protein-gekoppelte Rezeptoren

Media Releases Biology

Der Nobelpreis für Chemie geht in diesem Jahr an Robert J. Lefkowitz und Brian K. Kobilka. Sie haben herausgefunden, wie eine Familie von Rezeptoren funktioniert, die man G-Protein-gekoppelte Rezeptoren (GPCR) nennt. Auch am PSI leisten Wissenschaftler Beiträge auf diesem Forschungsgebiet.
This news release is only available in German.

21. December 2011


Wenn die Datenleitung in die Zelle versagt

Media Releases Human Health Biology Research Using Synchrotron Light

Lebende Zellen empfangen dauernd Informationen von aussen, die über Rezeptoren in das Zellinnere weitergeleitet werden. Genetisch bedingte Fehler in solchen Rezeptoren sind der Grund für zahlreiche Erbkrankheiten darunter verschiedene hormonelle Funktionsstörungen oder Nachtblindheit. Forschern des Paul Scherrer Instituts ist es nun erstmals gelungen, die exakte Struktur eines solchen fehlerhaften Rezeptors aufzuklären.
This news release is only available in German.

9. March 2011


The basic structures of sight deciphered

Media Releases Matter and Material Biology Research Using Synchrotron Light

At the beginning of the process of sight, light interacts with a protein molecule called Rhodopsin. This molecule contains the actual light sensor that is stimulated by the incoming light and changes its form, in order to trigger the rest of the process. Researchers have now managed to determine the exact structure of the Rhodopsin molecule in its short-lived, excited state. From this, they have obtained a precise picture of the first step of the process of sight.

18. January 2010

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Attacking the lifeline of tumour cells

Media Releases Biology Research Using Synchrotron Light Human Health

Researchers at Biomedicum Helsinki, Finland, and the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI) in Villigen, Switzerland, have determined the crystal structure of the ligand-binding domain of a vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) receptor in complex with one of its ligands (VEGF-C).

1. December 2009

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Studies on protein structures – understanding the basic building blocks of life

Human Health Biology Research Using Synchrotron Light

Proteins are the building blocks of all living organisms. In the living cell these complex molecules perform countless tasks. The precise function a protein performs is directly related to its structure. Researchers at the PSI investigate a wide range of proteins, in order to understand their structures and functions, often to lay the foundations for developing new drugs. In addition, researchers explore new techniques for determining protein structure – in particular with synchrotron light at the Swiss Light Source (SLS).

24. July 2009

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Ticket für die Reise durch die Zelle

Media Releases Biology Human Health Research Using Synchrotron Light

Publikation in Cell. Forscher entdecken Mechanismus für wesentliche Erkennungsvorgänge in lebenden Zellen. Über ihre Ergebnisse berichten die Forscher in der neuesten Ausgabe der Fachzeitschrift Cell.
This news release is only available in German.