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X-ray shows ‘thrilling’ biology in action

The world’s first hard X-ray free-electron laser is taking remarkable “snapshots” of the inner life of proteins and viruses.

Two studies published in the journal Nature demonstrate the unique capabilities of the Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS), located at the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory operated by Stanford University.

In one study, an international research team used the LCLS to demonstrate a shortcut for determining the 3-D structures of proteins. The laser’s brilliant pulses of X-ray light pulled structural data from tiny protein nanocrystals, avoiding the need to use large protein crystals that can be difficult or impossible to prepare.

This could lop years off the structural analysis of some proteins and allow scientists to decipher tens of thousands of others that are out of reach today, including many involved in infectious disease.

In a separate paper, the same team reported making the first single-shot images of intact viruses, paving the way for snapshots and movies of molecules, viruses, and live microbes in action.
 
 

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