SSRL Science Highlights Archive

Approximately 1,700 scientists visit SSRL annually to conduct experiments in broad disciplines including life sciences, materials, environmental science, and accelerator physics. Science highlights featured here and in our monthly newsletter, Headlines, increase the visibility of user science as well as the important contribution of SSRL in facilitating basic and applied scientific research. Many of these scientific highlights have been included in reports to funding agencies and have been picked up by other media. Users are strongly encouraged to contact us when exciting results are about to be published. We can work with users and the SLAC Office of Communication to develop the story and to communicate user research findings to a much broader audience. Visit SSRL Publications for a list of the hundreds of SSRL-related scientific papers published annually. Contact us to add your most recent publications to this collection.

SCIENCE HIGHLIGHT BANNER IMAGES

June 2006
Ganesaratnam K. Balendiran, City of Hope
Figure 1.

Researchers from the City of Hope cancer research and treatment center in Duarte, California, determined the crystal structure of the protein that controls this defense system in bacteria called Bacillus caldolyticus. Unless stopped, viral DNA slips into bacterial DNA, where it gets copied many times over, and then destroys its host. To protect bacterial cells, the control protein ensures the proper ratio between two enzymes, the "swords" and the "shields." The sword enzyme slashes invading viral DNA into useless pieces. The shield enzyme adds a protective layer to bacterial DNA, so the sword will not cut its master. Too few shields lead to bacterial cell death, and too many shields protect the viral DNA as well.

Macromolecular Crystallography
BL1-5
May 2006
Figure 1.

X-ray crystallography studies at the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Laboratory recently shone light on a human enzyme that helps synthesize heme, the iron-containing pigment that helps carry oxygen to all parts of our bodies. There are many enzymes along the chemical pathway that produces heme. Defects in any one of the enzymes cause different types of porphyria, a set of symptoms that includes acute pain, neurological problems, and even the madness suffered by King George III.

Macromolecular Crystallography
April 2006
R.J. Kline, M.D. McGehee, M.F. Toney
Figure 1.

Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Laboratory (SSRL) and Stanford researchers have now shown that the electrical performance of plastic semiconductors can be controlled and improved with surface treatments. In their research, published in Nature Materials, they showed they could align the small crystals within the polymer by applying a thin layer of another kind of organic molecule on to the surface. The highly-oriented crystals give the material better performance in conducting electricity. Researchers used x-ray scattering facilities at SSRL to determine the orientation of the crystals.

X-ray diffraction
BL2-1, BL7-2
April 2006
M. A. Palladino, F. R. Bahjat, E. A. Theodorakis, L. L. Moldawer
Figure 1.

In rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn's disease, the immune system overreacts, provoking too much inflammation. One method of treatment is to inhibit the immune protein that incites inflammation, called tumor necrosis factor (TNF). Currently available anti-TNF therapeutics have made a significant difference to patients, but are costly to manufacture and require an I.V. or injection. Sunesis Pharmaceuticals of South San Francisco, in collaboration with Biogen Idec, is researching small molecules that will inhibit TNF. The advantage of using small molecules is that they can be administered orally, and be produced much less expensively.

Macromolecular solution x-ray scattering
BL7-1
March 2006
Hongjun Liang, Daniel Harries, Gerard C. L. Wong
Schematic pictures

Gene therapy can potentially cure many hereditary and acquired diseases, such as cancer, hemophilia and cystic fibrosis, by delivering a healthy copy of a gene to the cells that need it. Researchers have been working on ways to deliver genes safely and effectively to the right locations. One promising approach is to use negatively charged lipids that reside in cell membranes of mammals. The idea is to pack a gene, made of DNA, into a lipid pocket, which then fuses with a cell membrane and empties the gene into the cell. The advantage of these anionic lipids (AL) is they do not evoke an immune response. The disadvantage is they do not attach well to DNA because both are negatively charged.

BL4-2
March 2006
Xueyong Zhu, Tobin J. Dickerson, Claude J. Rogers, Gunnar F. Kaufmann, Jenny M. Mee, Kathleen M. McKenzie, Kim D. Janda, Ian A. Wilson
Figure 1.

Cocaine abuse remains a major public health problem despite ongoing research aimed at developing therapies to counter its harmful effects. Immunopharmacotherapy is one proposed therapy which would block cocaine in the blood stream before it reaches the central nervous system. Cocaine-binding antibodies seem likely candidates for soaking up drugs in the blood stream, but their only binding abilities are not sufficient to withstand high concentrations of the drug. What is needed is a monoclonal antibody with high binding characteristics and sufficient catalytic ability to metabolize cocaine.

Macromolecular Crystallography
BL9-2
March 2006
Peter Kuhn, Raymond C. Stevens, Kumar Singh Saikatendu, Jeremiah S. Joseph, Vanitha Subramanian, Benjamin W. Neuman, Michael J. Buchmeier
SARS Genome

Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) emerged as the first severe and readily transmissible new disease of the 21st century. The debilitating pneumonia-like disease is caused by coronavirus, which caused 916 deaths out of about 8,400 reported cases. Scientists from The Scripps Research Institute in California have embarked on an ambitious program to characterize the structure and function of all the proteins built or used by SARS. Taking advantage of advances in robotics and automation at Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Laboratory as well as other new tools, the scientists ultimately hope to rapidly characterize the complete protein sets of emerging disease organisms and then provide structure information to design inhibitors to stop the organisms.

Macromolecular Crystallography
BL1-5, BL11-1, BL11-3
February 2006
Mary Corbett, Yilin Hu, Aaron Fay, Markus Ribbe, Britt Hedman, Keith Hodgson
Figure 1.

SSRL and Stanford scientists, in collaboration with a team from UC Irvine, have gotten the first look into how the metal active center of an enzyme that is largely responsible for fertilizing plants is assembled. This enzyme, which is called nitrogenase, certain bacteria employ to turn nitrogen from the air into a form that plants can use for healthy growth. In contrast to the enzymatic reaction, manufacturing nitrogen fertilizer chemically requires extreme pressures and temperatures and thus huge amounts of energy.

X-ray Absorption Spectroscopy
BL9-3
January 2006
A. Nilsson, A. Nikitin, H. Ogasawara, D. Mann, R. Denecke, Z. Zhang, H. Dai, KJ Cho
Figure 1.

Researchers at SSRL and Stanford have taken a step closer to hydrogen-run cars by adding hydrogen to tiny cylinders made entirely out of carbon. Recent experiments at SSRL and the Advanced Light Source in Berkeley have shown that carbon nanotubes, 50,000 times narrower than a human hair, are a promising material for storing hydrogen safely, efficiently and compactly. To attempt to store hydrogen, the researchers bombarded a film of carbon nanotubes with a hydrogen beam. Then they studied the film with different x-ray spectroscopy techniques to see if any hydrogen atoms had formed chemical bonds with the carbon.

X-ray absorption spectroscopy imaging
December 2005
T.-C. Weng, University of Michigan, J.E. Penner-Hahn, University of Michigan, J.S. Magyar, Northwestern University, H.A. Godwin, Northwestern University
Figure 1.

Research performed at SSRL has provided insight into why lead is so damaging to the healthy development of young children. Scientists from the University of Michigan and Northwestern University used x-ray absorption spectroscopy at SSRL to understand how lead can interfere with proteins that help transform DNA blueprints into working proteins that run the body.

X-ray Absorption Spectroscopy
BL9-3

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