The Canadian Light Source synchrotron in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan is one of over 40 such machines in the world capable of viewing the microstructure of materials. However, this facility differs because it is focused on life sciences and therefore has particular relevance for the nutraceutical industry.
The Canadian Light Source began operating in 2004, at a price tag of C $220mn. However, an additional C $60mn plug destined for additional beamlines could allow formulators to target how compounds react in human tissue.
The synchrotron is a tool for microscopic imaging that is housed in a building the size of a football field.
It uses an extremely bright light that is produced by using powerful magnets and radio frequency waves to accelerate electrons to nearly the speed of light. Infrared, ultraviolet and X-ray light are shone via beamlines to small laboratories where scientists select different parts of the spectrum and analyze microscopic matter at the atomic level.
Synchrotrons can be used to analyze a wide variety of compounds. However, the Canadian Light Source specializes in life sciences because it draws on researchers and scientists from the eight life sciences colleges and faculties from its home at the University of Saskatchewan.
"As far as I know, we are the only synchrotron doing life sciences in the world," Canadian Light Source industrial liaison scientist Colleen Christensen told NutraIngredients-USA.
Because they are niche research tools requiring expensive infrastructure, synchrotrons are almost entirely owned and funded by governments in developed countries.
One of the key benefits for dietary supplement formulators, said Christensen, is that a compound can be examined alone, without the use of a buffer.
For instance, the synchrotron in Saskatoon can take a mineral supplement powder and put it directly into the machine's beamline in order to see what a compound is bound to.
Christensen explained that other measures such as chromatography and mass spectrometry are problematic when using buffers, which increase the margin of error.
To date, the facility's nutraceutical clients have mainly consisted of selenium supplement companies. However, this clientele could expand with increased applications of the technology.
Yesterday's funding announcement from Canadian provincial and federal governments will pay for three new beamlines for the synchrotron's spectrum. One beamline in particular will give the facility the unique ability to look at minerals in tissues.
"This will really be a bonus - to actually know how a mineral is working in tissue for bioavailability purposes," said Christensen.
According to Christensen, such a technology will allow formulators to see how a dietary supplement behaves after being ingested and where it locates in the tissue.
The Canadian Light Source also stands out from other synchrotrons because of its relatively heavy business focus. While most synchrotrons around the world use less than ten percent of operations for industrial or commercial purposes, the Canadian Light Source aims to devote 25 percent of its activities for such uses.
Christensen pointed out that the facility's staff, which numbers more than 120 employees, troubleshoots with clients and tells them whether or not such precise technology is necessary for their experiment.
The cost for using the synchrotron is C $500/hour for "beam time" and C $100/hour for labor. The synchrotron scientists tend to work with two compounds - a known and an unknown - for comparison purposes, said Christensen.
To date only a small percentage - five percent or less - of Canadian Light Source's business has involved supplement companies. The majority of its commercial operations have been for the mining and environmental materials industries.