Washington, Apr 24 : High-quality proteins need no longer be grown in space, thanks to a Dutch chemist, who has successfully developed two attractive alternatives for making it possible to grow protein crystals here on earth under weightless conditions.
Dutch chemist Paul Poodt made use of the fact that if the crystals are grown upside down in a strong magnetic field; fluid flows that disrupt crystal growth are suppressed, thus, making it possible to grow high-quality proteins on earth.
Protein crystals provide vital knowledge for drug development. The production of an effective drug requires knowledge of how biomolecules such as body proteins are constructed.
To determine how proteins work, first of all there's a need to determine their molecular structure using X-ray diffraction.
This requires exceptionally high-quality protein crystals. However, allowing these to grow can be extremely difficult and sometimes even impossible: the presence of gravity gives rise to fluid flows in the crystal solution, which, in turn, disrupt the growth process. Undisturbed growth yields the finest crystals.
For preventing fluid flows, often the researchers opt for growing the protein crystals in space on, for example, the International Space Station ISS.
However, as this is a very expensive and time-consuming undertaking, scientists are looking for methods to create weightlessness on earth.
This experiment in Nijmegen is the first in the world to demonstrate that a crystal can grow uniformly in a strong magnetic field.