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Experiment reaches biology milestone with hard X-ray laser
Date:2/2/2011

TEMPE, Ariz. Unraveling the molecular basis of life is an age-old quest of humanity. A breakthrough towards this goal was reported in a pair of studies published Feb. 3 in the scientific journal Nature, detailing a new method developed to determine structures of biomolecules based on diffraction from protein nanocrystals that are so small that they are not even visible under the microscope. A tiny aerojet nozzle provides a fully hydrated constant stream of nanocrystals, both supplied from an interdisciplinary research team at Arizona State University.

These developments allowed an international team of nearly 90 researchers to collect more than 3 million exquisitely clear diffraction pattern "snapshots" just before the crystals exploded in the extreme strong ultra-short femtosecond X-ray pulses that are so intense it will ultimately vaporize any solid material in its focus. The experiments show the great potential of the X-ray free-electron laser the Linac Coherent Light Source located at the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory for new discoveries in biology and medicine.

"From the beginning, the resolution of images recorded by biologists has been limited by damage due to the radiation used," said physicist John C.H. Spence, a Regents' Professor in ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, one of the lead authors of the studies. "But what happens if a pulse of imaging radiation is used that terminates before damage begins, yet contains sufficient photons to generate a useful scattering pattern?"

Many in the scientific community didn't believe such a method could work. Yet, said Spence, "theory and recent experiments using soft X-rays had indicated that this might indeed provide a useful path to truly damage-free imaging, and then there was the recent invention of the hard X-ray laser (Linac Coherent Light Source)."

Unraveling protein structures

Living things are made up of biomolec
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Contact: Carol Hughes
carol.hughes@asu.edu
480-965-6375
Arizona State University
Source:Eurekalert  

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