X-ray laser resolves atomic structure of biomolecules

May 31, 2012

An international team, led by the U.S. Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and including members from Arizona State University, has shown how the world's most powerful X-ray laser can assist in cracking the atomic code of biomolecules, including a small protein found in egg whites.

The team’s experiments, described this week in Science, used SLAC’s Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) to obtain ultrahigh-resolution views of nano-crystals of biomolecules. In the process, the work is helping pioneer critical new investigative avenues in biology. Download Full Image

“This work demonstrates a new ‘snap-shot’ X-ray laser method that can provide atomic-resolution images of proteins with femtosecond time resolution and without causing radiation damage of the sample,” said John Spence, an ASU Regents' Professor of physics.

"This is the first high-resolution demonstration of the ‘diffraction-before-destruction’ technique on biological samples, where we’re able to measure a sample before the powerful pulses of the LCLS damage it,” added Sébastien Boutet, a staff scientist at LCLS who led the research. “We were able to actually visualize the structure of the molecule at a resolution so high we start to infer the position of individual atoms,” Boutet added.

For decades, scientists have reconstructed the shape of biological molecules and proteins by illuminating crystallized samples with X-rays to study how they scatter the X-rays. The new work with lysozyme (egg white protein) represents the first high-resolution experiments employing serial femtosecond crystallography – the split-second imaging of tiny (submicron) crystals using ultrashort, ultrabright X-ray laser pulses. (A femtosecond is one quadrillionth of a second.)

The technique – described in the paper “High-resolution protein structure determination by serial femtosecond crystallography” – works at a higher resolution than previously achieved using X-ray lasers, allows scientists to use smaller crystals than typical with other methods, and could enable researchers to view molecular dynamics at a time-scale never observed before.

The team chose lysozyme as the first sample for their research because it is easy to crystallize and has been extensively studied. Their work determined lysozyme’s structure at such high resolution that it showed the individual amino acids which make up the protein molecules, of which living organisms mainly consist. At this resolution, the researchers could tell the difference between the almost identical amino acid sequences of a turkey and of a hen lysozyme.

Spence said the team has previously published the structure of much larger and more complex proteins using LCLS but at lower resolution, such as photosystems used in photosynthesis, which were made at ASU in the laboratory of professor Petra Fromme.

International team members in addition to ASU and SLAC includes researchers from Max Planck Institutes, DESY, Cornell University, State University of New York-Oswego, the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University, the Nikhef National Institute for Subatomic Physics, the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, University of Gothenburg, University of Hamburg, University of Lübeck and Uppsala University.

In addition to Spence, other ASU members of the team are Bruce Doak, professor of physics; Petra Fromme, professor of chemistry and biochemistry; Uwe Weierstall, research professor in physics; Raimund Fromme, research associate; Richard Kirian, graduate student; Mark Hunter, graduate student; Christopher Kupitz, graduate research assistant; D. Wang, graduate student and Nadia Zatsepin, post-doctoral researcher. The ASU group developed the sample delivery system and did the early development work on the new “Monte Carlo” data analysis method. All ASU participants are members of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences.

“These results show that 3D image of molecules can now be obtained at atomic resolution by our new X-ray snap-shot method, in which we collect the scattering for the image before the sample is later destroyed by the beam,” Spence said. “By ‘outrunning’ radiation-damage processes in this way, rather than by freezing the sample, we can record the time-evolution of molecular processes at room temperature. This opens the way to future experiments on laser-excited samples, 3-D image reconstruction and a host of other experiments on fast imaging, all directed at the grand challenge of obtaining movies showing molecule machines at work.”

Associate Director, Media Relations & Strategic Communications


ASU announces 'Return To Camp T' campaign a success

May 31, 2012

Sun Devil football will return to famous camp in August 2012

An initiative spearheaded by ASU head football coach Todd Graham and Steve Patterson, athletics director and vice president for University Athletics, calling to restore the tradition of hosting Sun Devil Football at Camp Tontozona for practice and a scrimmage, has been successful. The football team will return to the famed mountain retreat, located northeast of Payson, Ariz. Download Full Image

The campaign – “Return To Camp T” – was launched on April 19 and called for Sun Devil fans, friends, alumni and former players to come together to raise $150,000 for the Sun Devil Club before June 1. That figure was met and the Sun Devils, under first-year coach Graham, will visit the Camp Aug. 14-18 with a scrimmage on the final day.

“I love the tradition of college football,” says Graham. “That is one of the reasons I coach at the collegiate level.  Camp Tontozona is one of the famous icons in the history of college football. I wanted to take my first team there because the tradition begins at Tontozona, just like it did in 1960. Every player, every coach and many fans begin each season in the tall pines northeast of Payson. Coach Frank Kush had a vision. It worked well then and it will again.”

“Camp Tontozona united Sun Devil football players from every generation and we wanted to return to that tradition,” says Patterson. “We needed the Sun Devil Football family to unite behind this goal and it did. Our goal with this campaign was to engage as many of our fans as possible to be a part of bringing us back to Camp Tontozona.”

Nearly 500 people donated to the campaign, including former players representing the last six decades of Sun Devil football.

On May 2, the Sun Devil Club announced a matching donation program by The White Mountain Sun Devil Club Alumni Chapter, which matched every dollar given from that date forward up to $65,000. That program effectively doubled every contribution from that point forward.

"On behalf of our White Mountain Sun Devil Club and Alumni Chapter's Board, volunteers and sponsors we were able to take the lead and support the Return To Camp T project with our $65,000 matching funds program," says Ted Cesarano, president. "Our theme has always been 'The Tradition Continues.' Six years ago we committed to the Return of the Steak Fry. Camp T, like our White Mountain Steak Fry, are long-standing traditions at ASU. Our board felt that it was highly important to continue both traditions.  

"In order for us to continue funding projects like Camp T and our Scholarship programs we need the support of all Sun Devil fans at our 5th Annual Steak Fry, to be held thus year on June 22-23 at the Pintetop Country Club. We are supporting scholarships for deserving young students throughout the White Mountains. If you consider yourself a true Sun Devil fan, you need to join us on June 23 to experience the tradition of the wonderful event that is the White Mountain Steak Fry."

Donors of $100 or more received a “Return to Camp T” bumper sticker, and $250 or more earned a “Return to Camp T” t-shirt. Donors of $500 or more received a T-shirt and are now eligible to go on a turnaround trip to the scrimmage at Camp Tontozona. All donations through the Sun Devil Club were tax-deductible.

Camp Tontozona will provide the Sun Devils with a unique setting for concentration and preparation for the 2012 season. The camp began hosting Arizona State football’s preseason practice in 1960 under the direction of head coach Frank Kush and continued through 2008. Set within the cool mountain country of Payson, Ariz., the camp borders the Tonto National Forest, which provides the first two syllables of Tontozona. The state of Arizona offers the last pair.

The nonprofit organization, Tonto Creek Camp (501 c-3-nonprofit), was established to manage the Retreat at Tontozona (formerly Camp Tontozona) throughout the year. They have hired staff and have booked the facility for different groups and entities, including youth camps and corporate retreats. Because of their work maintaining the site, the camp has remained a viable option for Sun Devil Athletics and the football program.

No conversation about Camp Tontozona would be complete without mentioning Mount Kush. “The first thing we did was climb that mountain as a group,” says Kush. “When we got to the top the rookies sang their high school fight songs. I thought the whole concept started us out with a lot of togetherness.”

“Camp Tontozona was simply about a bonding experience for us, especially as freshmen,” said former Arizona State quarterback Jake Plummer. “For me, it was my indoctrination to college football. It culminated in a Rose Bowl for us in 1996. It was Camp Tontozona that brought us together.”

The Sun Devil Club will have other opportunities to experience Camp Tontozona, including a turnaround trip, a barbecue and a golf outing. For more information on these events, contact Cori Hewitson in the Sun Devil Club at 480-727-7700.

Lisa Robbins

editor/publisher, Media Relations and Strategic Communications