A new technological development promises to shed light - synchrotron light, that is - on structural genomics. Crystallographers will soon be able to perform state-of-the-art protein structure determination in their own laboratory with a new miniature synchrotron light source capable of producing high-intensity, tunable, near-monochromatic X-rays.
This tabletop device, the Compact Light Source, will soon bring high-flux, high-quality X-rays directly to the university or industrial laboratory - and one day to the hospital or clinic.
Today at the Keystone Symposia on Structural Genomics in Snowbird, Utah, Ronald Ruth, Ph.D., president of Lyncean Technologies, Inc., announced the construction of a tabletop synchrotron light source that will be tested early in 2005.
The prototype development is supported by the Protein Structure Initiative of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) and is based on licensed technology from Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC).
During the past 30 years, synchrotron light sources have become the X-ray probe of choice for physicists, chemists, biologists and research physicians. With their high-quality, intense X-ray beams, a handful of national synchrotron laboratories have revolutionized X-ray science and spawned a large number of new technologies. The most striking examples of the impact of synchrotron light come from the three-dimensional studies of protein structure.
The Compact Light Source is one of the technology development projects funded for its potential contribution to the NIGMS Protein Structure Initiative (PSI).
"We launched the PSI in 2000 as an ambitious, 10-year project to dramatically reduce the time and cost of solving protein structures," said PSI director John Norvell, Ph.D. "With PSI support, scientists around the world are using highly automated systems to determine the structures of thousands of proteins experimentally and produce computer-based tools for ultimately modeling the structure of any protein from its genetic sequence."
Unlike the city-block-sized synchrotron radiation sources, the Compact Light Source fits within the footprint of a large desk. The reduction in scale by a factor of 200 is caused by using a laser beam instead of the "undulator" magnets of the large synchrotrons. Making electrons rapidly undulate, or wiggle, causes them to emit a pencil beam of nearly monochromatic X-rays.
"The Compact Light Source concept is highly innovative and its realization will hold great promise for advancing - and possibly revolutionizing - areas of biomedical science that rely on X-ray technology. The availability of a synchrotron X-ray source in or near a structural biology investigator's laboratory will be a welcome complement to the small number of specialized national synchrotron facilities. This work is an excellent example of the technically adventurous projects supported through our Small Business Innovation Research Program," said Charles Edmonds, Ph.D., the NIGMS scientist who administers the Lyncean grant.
The Compact Light Source is a breakthrough for X-ray science founded on the marriage of two mature technologies. Accelerator technology has been developed over the past 40 years by the Department of Energy for high-energy physics and synchrotron light sources.
Laser technology has been developed for a myriad of applications in science and industry. The team at Lyncean, assembled from leaders in the accelerator community, has already tested the critical components of the optical and electron beam systems. Construction of the prototype is proceeding rapidly.
"The Compact Light Source will boost scientific productivity by providing high-quality X-ray beams right at the fingertips of researchers in all fields of X-ray science," Ruth said, "but looking ahead, some of the most exciting applications for our source are in health care. New medical imaging techniques that provide exquisite detail of soft tissue are being developed at synchrotron beamlines today. The Compact Light Source will bring these out of the laboratory and into the hospital."
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