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Software shows molecules in 3-D

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Scientists are making it easier for pharmaceutical companies and researchers to see the detailed inner workings of molecular machines.
“Inside each cell in our bodies and inside every bacterium and virus are tiny but complex protein molecules that synthesize chemicals, replicate genetic material, turn each other on and off, and transport chemicals across cell membranes,” said Tom Terwilliger, a Los Alamos National Laboratory scientist. “Understanding how all these machines work is the key to developing new therapeutics, for treating genetic disorders, and for developing new ways to make useful materials.”
To understand how a machine works you have to be able to see how it is put together and how all its parts fit together. This is where the Los Alamos scientists come in.
These molecular machines are very small — a million of them placed side by side would take up less than an inch of space.
Researchers can see them however, using x-rays, crystals and computers. Researchers produce billions of copies of a protein machine, dissolve them in water, and grow crystals of the protein, like growing sugar crystals except that the machines are larger than a sugar molecule.
Then they shine a beam of X-rays at a crystal and measure the brightness of each of the thousands of diffracted X-ray spots that are produced.


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