September 2011

Experimentation hundreds of miles away

Remote data acquisition offers researchers unprecedented flexibility
to control instruments from afar.
 

 

 

Picture this: You’re in your pajamas, sitting in front of a computer. After a cup of coffee, you turn on the computer, log in to a secure website, start your favorite instrument remotely and begin to collect data. You then turn your attention to analyzing the data you acquired and downloaded from your earlier experiments. Occasionally, you check the progress of your experiment and modify some of the instrument parameters accordingly. And voilà, several hours later, the new data is ready for your next round of analysis.

remoteIs this a dream? Science fiction? Admittedly, for most biomedical researchers, it is not yet reality, but for some privileged scientists, especially structural biologists, the remote access of rare and expensive instruments is both a reality and a necessity.

Remote X-ray crystallography

“You need an X-ray source with high intensity to solve the three-dimensional structures of large macrobiomolecular complexes at angstrom resolution,” explains Roy Mariuzza, a professor of cell biology and molecular genetics at the Institute for Bioscience and Biotechnology Research at the University of Maryland, College Park. “The X-ray source we need is only available in a few national labs in the U.S.”

Although in-house X-ray crystallography equipment is ubiquitous, it cannot generate X-rays with intensity high enough for the Mariuzza group’s research. “The molecular packing of the crystals of my protein complexes is often defective to various degrees,” says Yiyuan Yin, who recently graduated from the Mariuzza lab.

Yin wants to understand the interactions between CD4, MHC II and the T-cell receptor – three proteins involved in multiple sclerosis – by solving the crystal structure of a CD4-MHC II-T-cell receptor complex. After producing preliminary data using a local X-ray diffractometer, Yin relies on the Advanced Photon Source, a synchrotron facility at the Argonne National Laboratory, to refine the structure at a higher resolution.

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