Scientists make first step towards 'holy grail' of crystallography

Jan 09, 2006

Scientists from Imperial College London and the University of Surrey have developed a new technique for crystallising proteins, a discovery which could help speed up the development of new medicines and treatments.

Crystallisation is the process which converts materials, such as proteins, into three dimensional crystals, thus enabling their atomic structure to be studied. The three dimensional structure of the crystals indicates the proteins function, and from this, researchers hope to be able to develop more effective treatments.

However, production of high quality crystals has long posed a major bottleneck for X-ray crystallography. This problem has become increasingly acute with the advent of structural genomics and proteomics which aim to determine the structures of thousands of proteins. Protein crystallography plays a major role in this understanding because proteins, being the major machinery of living things, are often targets for drugs.

To direct the proteins to become crystals, researchers use a substance called a nucleant, which does this by encouraging protein molecules to form a crystal lattice.

The research published online in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows how the team, consisting of bio-medical scientists, material scientists and physicists, collaborated to develop a theory concerning the design of porous materials for protein crystallisation and put it into practice. The theory is based on the rational that the porous structure of a material, traps the protein molecules, and encourages them to crystallise.

They tested the theory using BioGlass, a substance developed by Imperial’s material scientists, as a scaffold to trap and encourage the growth of protein crystals. BioGlass is a porous material, with a variety of different size pores able to trap different size proteins.

They found BioGlass induced the crystallisation of the largest number of proteins ever crystallised using a single nucleant.

Professor Naomi Chayen, from Imperial College London, who led the research, said: “The first step in obtaining a good crystal is to get it to nucleate in an ordered way. The ‘holy grail’ is to find a ‘universal nucleant’ which would induce crystallisation of any protein. Although there has been considerable research in search of a universal nucleant, this is the first time we have designed one which works on a large number of materials.”

The researchers plan to commercialise this discovery using Imperial Innovations, the College’s technology transfer company.

Source: University of London

Explore further: New insights found in black hole collisions

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Cells target giant protein crystals for degradation

Mar 12, 2015

Researchers at the RIKEN Brain Science Institute in Japan engineered a fluorescent protein that rapidly assembles into large crystals inside living cells, and showed that cells actively targeted the crystals ...

Smart crystallization

Mar 02, 2015

A novel nucleating agent that builds on the concept of molecularly imprinted polymers (MIPs) could allow crystallographers access to proteins and other biological macromolecules that are usually reluctant ...

Recommended for you

New insights found in black hole collisions

Mar 27, 2015

New research provides revelations about the most energetic event in the universe—the merging of two spinning, orbiting black holes into a much larger black hole.

X-rays probe LHC for cause of short circuit

Mar 27, 2015

The LHC has now transitioned from powering tests to the machine checkout phase. This phase involves the full-scale tests of all systems in preparation for beam. Early last Saturday morning, during the ramp-down, ...

Swimming algae offer insights into living fluid dynamics

Mar 27, 2015

None of us would be alive if sperm cells didn't know how to swim, or if the cilia in our lungs couldn't prevent fluid buildup. But we know very little about the dynamics of so-called "living fluids," those ...

First glimpse inside a macroscopic quantum state

Mar 27, 2015

In a recent study published in Physical Review Letters, the research group led by ICREA Prof at ICFO Morgan Mitchell has detected, for the first time, entanglement among individual photon pairs in a beam ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.