ISBC 2006

The International School on Biological Crystallization (ISBC) was held in Granada (Spain) May 22-26, 2006 under the auspices of the International Union of Crystallography through the Commission of Crystal Growth.

Enrollment was 119 and participants came from 24 different countries from Asia, Africa, Europe and both Americas, North and South.

ISBC spanned five days of lectures and practical demonstrations performed by 22 selected experts in the field of crystallization of biological macromolecules, crystallisation of drugs, small-molecule biological compounds, polymorphic precipitations and biomineralization.

The first day of the School dealt with the fundamentals of crystallization from solutions. Starting with an overview of the history of protein crystallization, the lectures covered the physicochemical properties of solutions, nucleation and crystal growth theories and mass transport processes, finishing with a video selection of in situ observations of crystal growth.

The second day of the School focused on protein crystallization. The students and participants learned from a number of vivid and lively lectures covering all aspects of protein crystal growth from the handling of solutions to the handling of crystals, including high-throughput methods, additives, post-translational modifications, crystallization strategies and new windows on crystallizability. A highlight of the day was the “hands-on” demonstration put on by the ISBC “ensemble” (Alex McPherson, Madeleine Ries, Terese Bergfors, and myself) showing how to set up batch, vapor diffusion, dialysis or counter-diffusion experiments. After a busy day we walked to the Alhambra for a romantic night tour of the Moorish Palacios Nazaríes.

The third day of the ISBC was devoted to hands-on experiments and the way it was done was an experiment in its own right. Practical training during ISBC was organized in an innovative and lively format called a Demonstration Fair. During the whole day, 15 specialists offered short (5-20 minutes) practical sessions periodically at scheduled times. Participants were free to choose what sessions they wanted to attend and in the order they wished, so that they selected their own learning program “a la carte”. There were sessions on polymorphism, chocolate crystallization, membrane protein crystallization, seeding of crystals, robotics, light scattering, and, of course, all sessions and techniques were repeated as many times as needed to satisfy the motivated students. The Demonstrations’ Fair proved to be an excellent teaching tool: it provided students opportunities to interact personally with the teachers, to watch at finger distance how to perform experiment and do them themselves, to plan their teaching schedules on the fly, to devote more time and attention to a particular demonstration, even to attend a session a second time if desired. The Demonstration Fair was very demanding for organizers, of course, and special thanks go to the Laboratorio de Estudios Cristalograficos team led by Dr. José Gavira, Dr. Fermin Otálora and Luis Gonzalez-Ramirez, whose experience in setting up microgravity flight experiments at Cape Canaveral and Baikonur made the installation and removal of lab benches on the Hotel premises within few hours seem like child’s play.

The blending of the protein crystallization, small molecule crystallization and biomineralisation communities over common issues and shared challenges was another initiative tested at ISBC for the first time. The risk, of course, was a possible phase separation or “demixing” of the two or three traditional communities. However, to the surprise of many, the lecture hall on the fourth day, which was devoted to small molecule crystallization, was as full of participants as it was on previous days. According to the comments of students and teachers, the cross-interaction was very intense and it was agreed to be a major achievement of the ISBC. The day started with protein crystallization on industrial scales and moved to crystallization of pharmaceuticals, polymorphism, high-throughput screening with pharmaceutical compounds, crystallization of lipids and computational methods, ending with a tasteful flourish, talks on the crystallization processes of ice cream and chocolate. That night, dinner time in Spain, the participants visited the famous gypsy district of Sacromonte, renowned for its flamenco music. There, in the cave of Venta del Gallo, participants enjoyed a tapas’ dinner followed by a Flamenco Fiesta until we decided to walk back to the Hotel, meandering the streets close to the river Darro and the Alhambra.

The last day started with a talk on functioning crystallization databases, a crucial tool for understanding crystallization in the future, and then moved to the field of biomineralization and biomimetic materials. Models for the formation of biominerals were reviewed as well as tools for studying textural characterization, the precipitation of calcium carbonate, calcium oxalates and phosphates in living organisms, and as a study case, the wonderful mineralization process of eggshell formation. Next were lectures on the synthesis and production of materials inspired by biomineral structures and on self-assembly of hierarchical mineral structures. The School closed with the presentation of prizes offered by the International Union of Crystallography (International Tables Volume A, F, and the Teaching Guide to Volume A) and Triana Science & Technology (GCBs and Crystallization mushrooms) to the presenters of the six posters judged to be the best at the school. Winners from Italy, Japan, Spain, France, Chile and Belgium were selected for award by an international panel chaired by Howard Einspahr. Responding to strong demand from teachers and students, a CD containing all the lectures and demonstrations has been prepared that includes posters and pictures provided by the participants.