Nav: Home

Space station crew cultivates crystals for drug development

March 31, 2017

Crew members aboard the International Space Station will begin conducting research this week to improve the way we grow crystals on Earth. The information gained from the experiments could speed up the process for drug development, benefiting humans around the world.

Proteins serve an important role within the human body. Without them, the body wouldn't be able to regulate, repair or protect itself. Many proteins are too small to be studied even under a microscope, and must be crystallized in order to determine their 3-D structures. These structures tell researchers how a single protein functions and its involvement in the development of disease. Once modeled, drug developers can use the structure to develop a specific drug to interact with the protein, a process called structure-based drug design.

Two investigations, The Effect of Macromolecular Transport on Microgravity Protein Crystallization (LMM Biophysics 1) and Growth Rate Dispersion as a Predictive Indicator for Biological Crystal Samples Where Quality Can be Improved with Microgravity Growth (LMM Biophysics 3), will study the formation of these crystals, looking at why microgravity-grown crystals often are of higher quality than Earth-grown, and which crystals may benefit from being grown in space.

Rate of Growth - LMM Biophysics 1

Researchers know that crystals grown in space often contain fewer imperfections than those grown on Earth, but the reasoning behind that phenomenon isn't crystal clear. A widely accepted theory in the crystallography community is that the crystals are of higher quality because they grow slower in microgravity due to a lack of buoyancy-induced convection. The only way these protein molecules move in microgravity is by random diffusion, a process that is much slower than movement on Earth.

Another less-explored theory is that a higher level of purification can be achieved in microgravity. A pure crystal may contain thousands of copies of a single protein. Once crystals are returned to Earth and exposed to an X-Ray beam, the X-ray diffraction pattern can be used to mathematically map a protein's structure.

"When you purify proteins to grow crystals, the protein molecules tend to stick to each other in a random fashion," said Lawrence DeLucas, LMM Biophysics 1 primary investigator. "These protein aggregates can then incorporate into the growing crystals causing defects, disturbing the protein alignment, which then reduces the crystal's X-ray diffraction quality."

The theory states that in microgravity, a dimer, or two proteins stuck together, will move much slower than a monomer, or a single protein, giving aggregates less opportunity to incorporate into the crystal.

"You're selecting out for predominantly monomer growth, and minimizing the amount of aggregates that are incorporated into the crystal because they move so much more slowly," said DeLucas.

The LMM Biophysics 1 investigation will put these two theories to the test, to try to understand the reason(s) microgravity-grown crystals are often of superior quality and size compared to their Earth-grown counterparts. Improved X-ray diffraction data results in a more precise protein structure and thereby enhancing our understanding of the protein's biological function and future drug discovery.

Crystal Types - LMM Biophysics 3

As LMM Biophysics 1 studies why space-grown crystals are of higher quality than Earth-grown crystals, LMM Biophysics 3 will take a look at which crystals may benefit from crystallization in space. Research has found that only some proteins crystallized in space benefit from microgravity growth. The shape and surface of the protein that makes up a crystal defines its potential for success in microgravity.

"Some proteins are like building blocks," said Edward Snell, LMM Biophysics 3 primary investigator. "It's very easy to stack them. Those are the ones that won't benefit from microgravity. Others are like jelly beans. When you try and build a nice array of them on the ground, they want to roll away and not be ordered. Those are the ones that benefit from microgravity. What we're trying to do is distinguish the blocks from the jelly beans."

Understanding how different proteins crystallize in microgravity will give researchers a deeper view into how these proteins function, and help to determine which crystals should be transported to the space station for growth.

"We're maximizing the use of a scarce resource, and making sure that every crystal we put up there benefits the scientists on the ground," said Snell.

These crystals could be used in drug development and disease research around the world. Follow @ISS_Research for more information about the science happening on the space station.
-end-


NASA/Johnson Space Center

Related Proteins Articles:

Discovering, counting, cataloguing proteins
Scientists describe a well-defined mitochondrial proteome in baker's yeast.
Interrogating proteins
Scientists from the University of Bristol have designed a new protein structure, and are using it to understand how protein structures are stabilized.
Ancient proteins studied in detail
How did protein interactions arise and how have they developed?
What can we learn from dinosaur proteins?
Researchers recently confirmed it is possible to extract proteins from 80-million-year-old dinosaur bones.
Relocation of proteins with a new nanobody tool
Researchers at the Biozentrum of the University of Basel have developed a new method by which proteins can be transported to a new location in a cell.
Proteins that can take the heat
Ancient proteins may offer clues on how to engineer proteins that can withstand the high temperatures required in industrial applications, according to new research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Designer proteins fold DNA
Florian Praetorius and Professor Hendrik Dietz of the Technical University of Munich have developed a new method that can be used to construct custom hybrid structures using DNA and proteins.
The proteins that domesticated our genomes
EPFL scientists have carried out a genomic and evolutionary study of a large and enigmatic family of human proteins, to demonstrate that it is responsible for harnessing the millions of transposable elements in the human genome.
Rare proteins collapse earlier
Some organisms are able to survive in hot springs, while others can only live at mild temperatures because their proteins aren't able to withstand such extreme heat.
How proteins reshape cell membranes
Small 'bubbles' frequently form on membranes of cells and are taken up into their interior.

Related Proteins Reading:

Proteins (Explore the molecules of life)
by Tali Lavy (Author), Ofir Corcos (Illustrator)

The human body relies on proteins for many of its most important processes. When we contract our muscles, we use proteins. We need proteins to fight disease and help blood cells transport oxygen. Proteins are the building blocks of life, and what’s more, they’re fascinating.

Written by structural biologist Tali Lavy, this book is a playfully illustrated exploration of proteins and their importance in human biology. Children will learn how proteins are composed of amino acids, how DNA encodes proteins, and how proteins affect life at a molecular level. Entertaining drawings of... View Details


Proteins: Structure and Function
by David Whitford (Author)

Proteins: Structure and Function is a comprehensive introduction to the study of proteins and their importance to modern biochemistry. Each chapter addresses the structure and function of proteins with a definitive theme designed to enhance student understanding. Opening with a brief historical overview of the subject the book moves on to discuss the ‘building blocks’ of proteins and their respective chemical and physical properties. Later chapters explore experimental and computational methods of comparing proteins, methods of protein purification and protein folding and... View Details


Proteins: Concepts in Biochemistry
by Paulo Almeida (Author)

Proteins: Concepts in Biochemistry teaches the biochemical concepts underlying protein structure, evolution, stability, folding, and enzyme kinetics, and explains how interactions in macromolecular structures determine protein function. Intended for a one-semester course in biochemistry or biophysical chemistry with a focus on proteins, this textbook emphasizes the logic underlying biophysical chemical principles.

Problems throughout the book encourage statistical and quantitative thinking. The text is ideal for senior undergraduates, first year graduate students, and... View Details


Protein Power: The High-Protein/Low Carbohydrate Way to Lose Weight, Feel Fit, and Boost Your Health-in Just Weeks!
by Michael R. Eades (Author), Mary Dan Eades (Author)

New York Times Bestseller - An effective, medically sound diet that lets you eat bacon, eggs, steak, even cheese? It's true!  Lose fat.  Feel fit.  Stop craving.  Without counting fat grams and without giving up the foods you love. Includes recipes for healthy meals to lose weight.

Based on cutting-edge research, this revolutionary and deliciously satisfying plan has already helped thousands of patients lose weight and achieve other lifesaving health benefits, including lower cholesterol and blood pressure readings and an improvement or reversal of common... View Details


Plant-Protein Recipes That You'll Love: Enjoy the goodness and deliciousness of 150+ healthy plant-protein recipes!
by Carina Wolff (Author)

Discover affordable, all-natural plant-based protein recipes that taste good and improve your health in this unique and easy cookbook.

Plant-based proteins are a healthier, more nutritious, and more environmentally friendly alternative to animal protein. But you don’t have to be a vegan or dedicated vegetarian to enjoy the benefits of a plant-based diet. Whether you’re going meatless full time, part time, or only occasionally, you’ll easily find a recipe to power your day.

From hearty breakfasts to satisfying dinners, this cookbook features 150 delicious, budget-friendly,... View Details


The Protein Power Lifeplan
by Michael R. Eades (Author), Mary Dan Eades (Author)

Introduces a lifestyle program that includes motivational advice, recipes, health tips, and nutritional guidelines to assist in treating major health problems, including diabetes, obesity, hypertension, and heart disease View Details


Power Vegan Meals: High-Protein Plant-Based Recipes for a Stronger, Healthier You
by Maya Sozer (Author)

High-Protein Vegan Meals for a High-Powered Lifestyle

In Power Vegan Meals, Maya creates easy meals that are high in protein and flavor and low in prep time, so they’re great for athletes as well as healthy, active people.

Drawing inspiration from international cuisine and comfort food favorites, Maya has crafted
over 75 diverse and flavorful gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free and plant-based recipes that will keep you energized throughout the day. Recipes range from BBQ Jackfruit with Red Cabbage Slaw and guilt-free Peanut Butter Chocolate Fudge Bites to... View Details


Oil-Protein Diet Cookbook: 3rd Edition
by Dr Johanna Budwig (Author)

NEW REVISED 3rd EDITION

Contemporary nutritional science owes a great deal to Dr. Budwig's early discoveries on fat metabolism and healing.

This brilliant scientific mind has put together a wonderfully imaginative best seller "cookbook" - a guide for the use of healthy oils in daily meal preparation.

Not only will readers discover over 500 imaginative and delicious meal possibilities using the healing powers of flax oil, they will also learn more about how "good" fats and "bad" fats impact our health and our lives - as Dr. Budwig continues to elaborate on her scientific... View Details


Protein Ninja: Power through Your Day with 100 Hearty Plant-Based Recipes that Pack a Protein Punch
by Terry Hope Romero (Author)


I wanted protein recipes other than that mashing a vanilla-flavored powder with almond butter and flax seeds and calling it a day. I wanted something that really made me feel as if I was cooking. And yes, even good old-fashioned baking! Adding pure, unflavored, but wholesome plant-based protein powders to recipes brings out my inner foodie alchemist. I heard the call of the protein ninja.

Whether you're vegan, vegetarian, or eat-everything-you-can-get-your-hands-on, a weeknight home chef, everyday athlete, or just a busy person looking wholesome, protein-rich snacks and... View Details


The High-Protein Vegetarian Cookbook: Hearty Dishes that Even Carnivores Will Love
by Katie Parker (Author), Kristen Smith (Author)

Satisfying vegetarian recipes from Veggie and the Beast

Where do vegetarians get their protein? From delicious plant-based foods, including beans, nuts, quinoa, raw cocoa, and even dairy. These ingredients are used to their best advantage in this new cookbook. As a vegetarian living with a meat-eating guy, the author has developed recipes for every time of day (or night) that are deliciously satisfying and high in protein. With recipes like Fresh Veggie Quinoa Salad with Lemon Tahini Dressing, Mushroom and Wild Rice Burgers, Quick and Hearty Vegetarian Chili,... View Details

Best Science Podcasts 2018

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2018. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

The Person You Become
Over the course of our lives, we shed parts of our old selves, embrace new ones, and redefine who we are. This hour, TED speakers explore ideas about the experiences that shape the person we become. Guests include aerobatics pilot and public speaker Janine Shepherd, writers Roxane Gay and Taiye Selasi, activist Jackson Bird, and fashion executive Kaustav Dey.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#479 Garden of Marvels (Rebroadcast)
This week we're learning about botany and the colorful science of gardening. Author Ruth Kassinger joins us to discuss her book "A Garden of Marvels: How We Discovered that Flowers Have Sex, Leaves Eat Air, and Other Secrets of the Way Plants Work." And we'll speak to NASA researcher Gioia Massa about her work to solve the technical challenges of gardening in space.