Spurring bioenergy and biomedical advances
Fromme has been a critical contributor to an ASU group that, for the past generation, has been one of the world's leading photosynthesis groups in the world. And if scientists can successfully mimic photosynthesis - the way plants use sunlight energy to break apart water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen - they could help to usher in the hydrogen economy. But to date, no one has been able to unlock plants' secrets to produce a clean, cheap and scalable renewable energy alternative.
"A crucial problem facing research groups around the world is discovering an efficient, inexpensive catalyst for oxidizing water to oxygen gas, hydrogen ions and electrons," said ASU Regents' Professor
Fromme was part of the BISfuel center led by Gust that had received
The same research acumen and expertise has also been assembled at ASU to equally transform health care and biomedicine.
"Petra's expertise will significantly complement, enhance and expand on our efforts to advance protein research and discovery for the early detection and prevention of disease," said
"I am so much looking forward to continuing and expanding the exciting research on protein structural discovery toward making molecular movies with my colleagues and students here at ASU in the new
Fromme leads a
Making molecular movies
Fromme and her vast network of collaborators have developed new techniques, powerful tools and instrumentation to make molecular movies of the inner workings of proteins, all the way down to the atomic scale.
This cutting-edge arsenal of physics-based and computational methods ultimately promises to allow scientists, in a process akin to freeze-frame photography, to take superfast snapshots to freeze proteins in time. To do so, they use a short X-ray pulse to shoot molecular movies that allow the fine details of these biomolecules to be seen at work like never before.
X-rays have long transformed medicine and captivated the public imagination after German physicist Wilhelm Conrad Rontgen first developed them in 1895. For his achievements, Rontgen won the Nobel Prize in 1901, and since that time, X-rays have driven others in their Nobel discoveries.
A half-century ago, X-ray technology was first used to solve the 3-D structure of the molecule of life - DNA - by
But the structures for the vast majority of the estimated million proteins in the human body remain to be solved, and because X-rays can damage the protein crystal needed to solve the structure, it can take years of effort to solve a single protein structure. For instance, it took Fromme and her team about a dozen years to solve the structure of the complex solar energy conversion proteins of Photosystem I and II that convert light energy from the sun into chemical energy, thereby providing all the energy for higher life on Earth. "The unraveling of the structure and function of proteins is one of the most challenging goals in the post-genomic era," said Fromme.
"From the beginning, the resolution of images recorded by biologists has been limited by damage due to the radiation used," said physicist
Fromme has been part of a large interdisciplinary team of ASU faculty members from the
Their high-impact research and first proof-of-concept using the world's brightest, fastest and most powerful X-ray laser technology - called time-resolved serial femtosecond X-ray crystallography - was recently published in the prestigious journal Nature. In 2012, the research team reported on the first novel structure determined at atomic detail, which was chosen by
The X-rays are produced from accelerated electrons. Like light shined through a prism, X-ray pulses billions of times stronger than traditional sources are scattered when a single protein nanocrystal is sprayed like an inkjet printer onto the oncoming traffic of the ultra-bright X-ray beam. A single X-ray shot of the X-ray Free Electron Laser (XFEL) destroys any solid material in its path, ripping off the inner electrons of the atoms before a plasma is formed along with temperatures that become higher than the inside of the sun.
Many in the scientific community didn't believe such an experiment would be possible and could lead to the determination of protein structures, however, the ASU team and their collaborators accomplished the proof of principle with the first diffraction experiments on protein crystals ever conducted at XFEL. In their first groundbreaking paper published in the journal Nature in 2011, they showed that the X-ray pulses, which are shorter than 15 quadrillionths of a second (or the time it takes for a particle of light to travel through a single human hair), are scattered from the intact undamaged crystal just before it explodes, allowing for the unraveling of protein structures.
Scientists use the X-ray patterns beamed onto a detector and powerful computers to reconstruct the 3-D structure of the biomolecules "in action."
A global center for protein innovation
President Crow sees the establishment of Fromme's center as an inflection point for ASU research into an ever-greater and more ambitious level of science on a global scale.
"Our overarching plan is to build a new center housing professor Fromme's lab that will house the next generation of X-ray and protein technologies needed for this groundbreaking science." ASU officials are also seeking to strengthen connections with Fromme's collaborators in
The current costs for doing the original, groundbreaking proof-of-concept work relied on the reconversion of the 1 kilometer-long Stanford Linear Accelerator, supported at a jaw-dropping billion-dollar cost. Booking time on the instrument is also a challenge, allowing for just a few experiments every year.
"In 2009, we showed the first proof of principle after the world's first high-energy, free-electron laser had become operational in
The driving force behind the development of the next-generation X-ray laser, much like the computer industry, is a mantra of faster, cheaper, smaller.
"Our goal is to develop a revolutionary attosecond laser that will shrink down the X-ray Free Electron Laser from 1 kilometer to a single meter, at a reduced cost of
"This investment is necessary in order to make an impact on research that leads to the cures of diseases, and clean energy conversion from the sun for the future of mankind. It will give birth to a new era in protein structural biology, and provide the necessary training of personnel and students that are a true win-win for the state of
The opportunity to develop an entirely new field is rare in science, and ASU, with the leadership of Fromme and her colleagues, is the current world-leader in XFEL technology. Already, investment in ASU has brought the state of
Now there is a tremendous opportunity for an even greater return on this locally-driven, globally-impactful, innovative science.
TNS 30TagarumaMar-140802-4817594 30TagarumaMar
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