The U.S. Department of Energy's
(DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory received grants from DOE and the National
Institutes of Health (NIH) totaling $28 million to support an X-ray Crystallography
Research Resource at the Laboratory's National Synchrotron Light Source (NSLS).
The grants of $15 million from DOE's Office of Biological and Environmental
Research and $13 million from NIH's National Center for Research Resources will
fund five years of operations and research.
One of the world's most widely used scientific facilities, the NSLS provides
intense beams of infrared, ultraviolet, and x-ray light to study materials as
diverse as computer chips and viruses at the atomic level. X-ray crystallography
at the NSLS involves experiments that reveal the 3-D atomic-level structure
of large molecules, such as enzymes and nucleic acids, that are found in all
living cells. X-ray crystallographers working at the NSLS determined the structures
of numerous molecules, including those from organisms responsible for the common
cold, Lyme disease, and AIDS. Knowing the structure of a molecule provides information
about its function, which, in turn, may lead to important clues about how to
create effective drugs to prevent or treat a disease.
“During the last year, 150 university, industrial and national laboratory
research groups made a total of 800 visits to work at this resource,”
said Brookhaven's Robert Sweet, the principal investigator of the X-ray
Crystallography Research Resource, which has a staff of 20. “Their experimental
results provide crucial information that may lead to treatments for many health
problems, including cancer, infections, and obesity.”
One of the guest investigators who did research at the crystallography resource
– Roderick MacKinnon of Rockefeller University – won the 2003 Nobel
Prize in Chemistry for investigating the molecular details of nerve transmission.
While much of the research at the facility is basic science that may lead to
major discoveries, other work is targeted toward achieving a specific, practical
goal. For example, about five percent of the research is done by pharmaceutical
firms with the goal of finding drugs to treat human disease.