Snapshots of proteins in repose might someday be replaced by views of proteins caught in action, if researchers presenting at the 2012 annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science have their way. Researchers will explore how X-ray imaging can surpass X-ray crystallography for gathering detailed structural and functional information, even going as far as CAT-scan-like tomography of cells at the nanometer scale.
X-ray crystallography has served structural biologists well -- researchers who painstakingly purify individual proteins, DNA or other molecules of interest, form them into crystals and bombard them with X-rays to learn what they look like, how they work and how they've evolved over time. But with more than 60,000 unique molecules crystallized, some researchers, such as technologist Louis Terminello, say the relatively easy to crystallize ones are out of the way and biologists need a new tool for structural biology. From the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Terminello has assembled this symposium to explore X-ray imaging as that next powerful tool.
"X-ray imaging allows you to peer through a collection of cells and tissue and keep things as close to their natural state as possible," said Terminello. "Other methods require processes that perturb reality. With the advent of high spatially resolved X-ray technology, we are just on the edge of X-ray microscopy that can show us the architecture inside cells." Terminello hopes the X-ray microscope will transform structural biology the way van Leeuwenhoek's microscope created the field of biology centuries ago.
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