Elucidating the structure and sequence of proteins is an important task in understanding the biological properties of a protein and its potential as a therapeutic target. Producing a well-ordered crystal, particularly for proteins, which can be studied through crystallography, however, is not an easy task. Recent research involves examining the effects of microgravity on protein crystallization and a computational model for protein elucidation.
Protein crystallization and microgravity effects
The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), manager of the International Space Station (ISS) US National Laboratory, is collaborating with Merck & Co. to conduct research on protein crystallization on board the ISS in 2013. The research will examine the effect on protein crystallization using microgravity.In July, CASIS announced its first request for proposals (RFP) focused on advancing protein crystallization using microgravity. Additionally, in early September 2012, CASIS announced an RFP focused on materials testing in the extreme environment of space. Proposals for this RFP will be accepted until Oct. 24, 2012. The final agreement with Merck is dependent on approval by CASIS' evaluation and prioritization process, a requirement for all ISS projects. If approved, the research will begin in mid-2013.
"We at Merck are excited to work with CASIS and explore the microgravity effects on several bioprocessing applications within the unique environment of the ISS National Lab," said Paul Reichert, chemistry research fellow at Merck Research Laboratories, in a September CASIS press release.
CASIS is the nonprofit organization promoting and managing research on board the ISS US National Laboratory, which includes a solicitation for proposals in relation to advancing protein crystallization using microgravity. The RFP seeks to identify projects within the field of crystallography that CASIS will support through grant funding, facilitation of service provider partnerships, and flight coordination to and from the ISS. Crystallography is the technique used to determine the three-dimensional structures of protein molecules. Protein crystallization, when performed in space, may produce large, better-organized crystals, thereby allowing for more focused drug development. CASIS believes that its RFP will lead to the production of better crystals in the microgravity environment than can be grown on Earth.
"CASIS has evaluated research performed to date in the life sciences and believes it is time to formally test the promising hypothesis that microgravity may produce greater internal order in protein-crystal growth," said CASIS acting Chief Scientist Timothy Yeatman, in a June 26, 2012, CASIS press release. "This could potentially lead to sharper resolution of crystals and their cognate proteins, which could produce more effective drugs for cancer and other debilitating human diseases."
In 2005, the US Congress designated the US portion of the ISS as the nation's newest national laboratory to maximize its use for improving life on Earth, promoting collaboration among diverse users, and advancing science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education. The laboratory environment is available for use by other US government agencies and by academic and private institutions to provide access to the permanent microgravity setting, vantage point in low-earth orbit, and varied environments of space.