Athens, Ga. For more than a century, the use of X-rays has been a prime diagnostic tool when it comes to human health. As it turns out, X-rays also are a crucial component for studying and understanding molecules, and a new approach -- just published by researchers at the University of Georgia -- may dramatically improve what researchers can learn using the technique.
One of the primary ways scientists can understand molecules is to bombard their crystalline forms with X-ray beams. This allows a crystallographer to discover many things about the molecule, from the arrangement of atoms to the position of chemical bonds. Thus, the techniques of X-ray crystallography have been central to numerous important scientific discoveries in many fields.
Now, a team led by B.C. Wang, Ramsey-Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar in Structural Biology at UGA, has shown for the first time that by using multiple data sets, each under-exposed simultaneously, one can produce a composite data set that may give three to five times better signal levels than standard techniques for structural analysis. This new technique is particularly better than standard procedures when it comes to studying large molecules, many of which are important in drug development and other important processes.
"When compared to crystals of small molecules, macromolecular crystals diffract X-rays poorly and usually tend to have a much shorter lifetime in the X-ray beam," said Wang. "So a macromolecular crystal can only withstand a certain amount of X-ray dose before it is destroyed as a result of radiation damage. Obtaining accurate and complete diffraction data sets of these crystals is very important."
Strikingly, the new procedure used by the Wang team could be adapted for use with X-ray techniques in studying human health. This could eventually mean that doctors utilizing it could get more information on a patient while using a lower X-ray dose. That, however, is
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University of Georgia