Research Alert

Imaging at the speed of life

The European XFEL marks a new age of protein movie-making that enables enzymes involved in disease to be observed in real time


Newswise — To study the swiftness of biology – the protein chemistry behind every life function – scientists need to see molecules changing and interacting in unimaginably rapid time increments – trillionths of a second or shorter.

Imaging equipment with that kind of speed was finally tested last year at the European X-ray Free Electron Laser, or EuXFEL. Now, a team of physicists from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee have completed the facility’s first molecular movie, or "mapping," of the ultrafast movement of proteins.

With this capability, scientists can watch how proteins do their jobs properly – or how their shape-changing goes awry, causing disease.

“Creating maps of a protein’s physical functioning opens the door to answering much bigger biological questions,” said Marius Schmidt, a UWM professor of physics who designed the experiment. “You could say, that the EuXFEL can now be looked on as a tool that helps to save lives.”

Their findings have marked a new age of protein research that enables enzymes involved in disease to be observed in real time for meaningful durations in unprecedented clarity. The paper, in the journal Nature Methods, is available when the embargo lifts on Nov. 18 at https://www.nature.com/articles/s41592-019-0628-z.

First author on the paper is UWM doctoral student Suraj Pandey. Coauthors include Schmidt and UWM faculty members Abbas Ourmazd and Peter Schwander, and graduate student Ishwor Poudyal. The experiment was performed by a large international team consisting members of the BioXFEL collaboration from Arizona State University and the Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron (DESY), and beamline research specialists at the EuXFEL.

SEE ORIGINAL STUDY

0.35754