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ISS News

One More Reason Not To Use the ISS?

By Keith Cowing
January 14, 2013
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How to Solve Protein Structures with an X-ray Laser, Science (subscription required)
“For over a decade, biologists have asked whether x-ray lasers can be used to determine the structures of biomolecules such as proteins. Such methods have the potential to allow structure determination from micro- or even nanoscale crystals, but radiation damage can be extensive and data interpretation is fraught with difficulty. On page 227 of this issue, Redecke et al. (1) overcome these problems to determine the room-temperature structure of a protein of importance to drug discovery.”
Advanced Protein Crystallization Facility (APCF), NASA
“The three-dimensional structure of protein crystals is studied to determine how structure affects the function of individual proteins. Scientists want to understand how proteins work, how to build them from scratch, or how to improve them. To conduct this type of study, scientists must first generate crystals that are large enough and uniform enough to provide useful structural information upon analysis. Protein crystals grown in microgravity — the near weightlessness experienced on a spacecraft in orbit — are often significantly larger and of better quality than those grown on Earth.”
Keith’s note: Once again, yet another research team has demonstrated that structural information for biomolecules can be obtained from vanishingly small biological samples using a X-ray laser – on Earth – no space station required. So much for the official story NASA has told for 20 years that the ISS is crucial for such work. If NASA hadn’t dragged its feet for the past several decades perhaps the agency could have made more progress before Earth-based research caught up and passed them by. You can be certain that CASIS won’t be linking to this research.
This doesn’t mean that the ISS has no value as a research platform – quite the opposite. What NASA needs to do, however, is get off its collective butt and adopt a research cycle for ISS research – from start to finish – that is commensurate with what happens back on Earth. Otherwise more of the “discoveries” made up there will arrive back on Earth after they have been done ‘faster, better, and cheaper’ back on Earth.
Using the ISS: Once Again NASA Has Been Left in the Dust, earlier post

NASA Watch founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.