Thursday, January 15, 2009

Breakthroughs IBM's Sharp New Focus

Breakthroughs IBM's Sharp New Focus
Jonathan Fahey, 01.12.09, 05:45 PM EST

A new technique could let biologists better see how proteins fit together and make life happen.
Proteins are giant jumbles of amino acids shaped like a tangle of curled ribbons and crimped strings. But they are jumbled and tangled just so. How they are built and shaped determines whether they can help digest a bite of steak au poivre or play a role in crippling a flu virus.
The beautiful, messy collection of proteins in our bodies are made from a mere 20 amino acids. Figuring out what intricate shape they take, or "seeing" their structures, however, is hard.
Now researchers at IBM (nyse: IBM - news - people ) think they may be able to do just that: In a paper published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the scientists describe the results of a new magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technique that could give biologists a glimpse of the tangles and crimps of proteins down to a resolution of four nanometers (or billionths of a meter). That's 100 million times sharper than the best research machines currently available.
IBM does not have a new MRI machine yet. Instead, the researchers are revealing the latest results of a technique they've been working on for a decade. It could still use some refining, but researchers report that they trained their device on a tobacco mosaic virus; for the first time, they have been able to create an image of a native organic molecule in three dimensions. Read more...

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