May 31, 2012Science and Technology
X-ray technique opens door to nanoscale biological insights

A study published this week in Science demonstrates the potential of free-electron lasers (FEL) to obtain high-resolution structural insight into macromolecules. An international team of researchers determined the structure of hen egg white lysozyme down to a resolution of 0.19 nanometers. Despite the intensity of FEL X-ray pulses, which destroy the sample, the method delivers high quality structural data. "The exceptionally intense X-ray pulses possible with FELs open the door for analyzing completely new classes of biomolecules like proteins from the cell membrane." explains co-author Henry Chapman. "This will allow us to explore uncharted terrain in structural biology." The structure of biomolecules is of great interest for medicine, because their shape often determines their function. For example, if scientists know the structure of an enzyme critical to a cell receptor, it may be possible to design tailored medication for that receptor.

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