Marc Allaire, the newest member of the Berkeley Center for Structural Biology (BCSB) team, joined the ALS in October as beamline scientist for Sector 5, which consists of Beamlines 5.0.1, 5.0.2, and 5.0.3. Allaire came to the ALS from Brookhaven National Laboratory, where he had been responsible for macromolecular crystallography (MX) beamlines and the biological small-angle x-ray scattering (SAXS) program.
Allaire, who hails from the beautiful province of Québec originally, has been using synchrotrons in his own biochemistry research since 1992, when he worked on the viral 3C protease at the Photon Factory in Japan. Early in his career he had to deal with the effects of radiation damage to samples and developed and proposed a new model to explain the loss of diffraction from x-ray exposure to protein crystals. Over the years he led the field in the structure determination of challenging projects, including membrane protein complexes. “I became fascinated by structural biology and MX because it’s an interesting combination of subjects,” says Allaire. “You’re applying physics and math to biology to understand its chemistry.”
One of the major draws for Allaire in joining BCSB was its strong pharmaceutical user base. Using structural biology for drug discovery is a research area that’s of particular interest, in part because of the sheer quantity of structures being solved. “It’s challenging because the range of structures to solve is getting bigger and we need to work on new ways to speed up the process,” says Allaire.
Allaire spent a lot of time at Brookhaven developing process improvements for protein crystallography, and he hopes to apply some of what he learned at the ALS. “The ALS has really pioneered robotics capabilities, which is something that we can develop further to enhance productivity,” Allaire says.
He’s taking remote user access “on the road” these days, traveling to provide training sessions for users who want to access the robotics capabilities available at BCSB. “Training and education are part of why I really like this position,” says Allaire. “I get to go beyond just providing beamtime to users and share my vast experience as a crystallographer and behind-the-scene expertise as a beamline scientist.”