Using the world's fastest camera, researchers caught glimpses of changes in protein as it interacts with light. The research represents the most detailed picture of nature's fundamental process at the tiniest scale.
Getting a detailed view of what is happening inside a body on a molecular and cellular level has been the focus of medical science for years. Regular techniques are not good enough to record those elusive moments when protein molecules undergo different transitions - from one form to another.
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In a groundbreaking experiment with the world’s fastest camera, a team of researchers caught a glimpse of changes in protein reactions, the building blocks of life, in real time, which was not possible to observe with such detail and speed until now.
They have captured the images of tiny crystallized protein as it react to the light and provide the unprecedented details of nature’s fundamental process. Observing nature working at the tinniest scale could hold the key for discovering potential cures for diseases.
“This puts us dramatically closer to understanding the chemistry necessary for all life,” said lead researcher Marius Schmidt from University of Wisconsin Milwaukee. “Discovering the step-by-step process of how proteins function is necessary not only to inform treatment of disease, but also to explore the grand questions of biology.”
The experiment took place at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory with the help of Linac Coherent Light Source X-ray free electron laser, or XFEL and represents the most detailed picture of atomic world, revealing the process in a few quadrillionths of a second.
“Light drives much of biology and this novel experiment is a pinnacle in understanding how living systems responds to light.” Keith Moffat from University of Chicago said.
Understanding how complex molecules work requires learning about the arrangements of atoms because atomic scale changes determine the function of protein molecules. Using high-speed photography of XFFL, researchers were able to capture the imaging of fastest reactions on average 150 femtoseconds, which is 1,000 times faster than any previous X-ray experiment.
Protein is an important building block in the body and performs a vast array of functions within living organism. Photosynthesis - converting light into energy – is the ultimate source of fuel for the existence of life.
“Once the protein absorbs a photon of light, it changes its shape from an initial configuration, known as the 'trans' form, to a new shape, known as 'cis,'” said co researcher Petra Fromme. “The transition occurs in such a unbelievably brief time span that nobody had been able to see the important details of the process.
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Next, researchers aiming to collect femtosecond details over a bigger range of time with the goal of understanding the mechanism of chemical reaction and controlling and steering the process in a certain direction by using light.