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Research Highlights

  • Revealing Mechanisms of Biological Motors Image

    Research Highlight: Revealing Mechanisms of Biological Motors

    Posted on September 13, 2017
    Some bacteria are capable of using a "grappling hook" to move themselves. They extend pili to attach to surfaces and retract them to pull themselves toward the point of attachment. In some cases, these pili are essential for the disease process of virulent bacteria. Using data collected at the CMCF, researchers have characterized the "motor" of one such protein system, known as the Type IVa Pilus (T4aP). X-ray crystal structures allowed researchers to deduce a mechanism whereby ATP binds the core ATPase domains, driving the actions of the pili. PDB ID 5TSG.

  • Improving antibiotics Image

    Research Highlight: Improving antibiotics

    Posted on January 22, 2016
    Nonribosomal peptide synthetases (NRPSs) are large, complex proteins responsible for the production of many common antibiotics critical for human health. Making use of the Canadian Macromolecular Crystallography Facility beamlines, researchers have gained a new depth of understanding of NRPSs. Crystal structures of several functional confirmations were determined, supplying critical information about these macromolecular machines. This is an important step if NRPSs are to be used in the production of novel therapeutics. PDB ID: 5es5

  • Exploring the human microbiome Image

    Research Highlight: Exploring the human microbiome

    Posted on January 20, 2015
    The microbial community of the human gut, the microbiota, is critical to human nutrition and health. Different diets are associated with different populations of microbiota. A study has appeared in Nature that explores the adaptation of the microbiota to yeast domestication in the human diet. Yeasts have been an important component of the diet for millenia, through such foods as yeast-leavened breads, fermented beverages and such food products as soy sauce. In this detailed study using multiple techniques, including structural data from the CLS, components of yeast (α-mannans) are shown to be an important food source for Bacteroidetes, a dominant member of the microbiota. These specialized bacteria use a mechanism to break down α-mannans by limited cleavage on the surface, generating large oligosaccharides that are subsequently broken down to mannose by periplasmic enzymes, a process that minimizes nutrient loss. PDBID 4c1r.

  • The double-helix: not just for DNA Image

    Research Highlight: The double-helix: not just for DNA

    Posted on August 12, 2013
    RNA (ribonucleic acid) sequences, although usually single-stranded, can sometimes form double-helical structures. Long RNA sequences having repeating adenine residues, poly(rA), are present on messenger RNA (mRNA), which is transcribed from DNA as a step toward the production of proteins. Poly(rA) RNA was predicted to have the ability to form a double-helix in 1961 based on fibre diffraction experiments. Its detailed structure has only been confirmed by X-ray crystallography recently. Researchers at McGill University have crystallized (rA)11 RNA sequences and combined data collected at the Canadian Light Source and the Cornell High Energy Synchrotron Source to obtain a very detailed 1.0 Å resolution crystal structure of this double-helix. The structure, obtained at physiological pH, shows a parallel double-helix. Ammonium ions stabilize the structure by binding to RNA phosphate groups and adenine N1 atoms, while N7 positions are engaged in hydrogen bonding. Contrary to antiparallel DNA, the poly(rA) double helix shows no major or minor grooves, but rather grooves of equal size. The extent of poly(rA) RNA double-helix formation in mRNA and in other systems remains to be discovered. Researchers believe the structure may be physiologically important, especially under conditions where there is a high local concentration of poly(rA). This can happen, for instance, under conditions where cells are stressed and mRNA become concentrated in RNA granules within cells. PDB ID: 4jrd.

  • Embracing Enemy RNA Image

    Research Highlight: Embracing Enemy RNA

    Posted on January 23, 2013
    During viral infections with viruses such as the flu virus, RNAs having 5'-triphosphate groups (PPP-RNAs) are produced which do not have the usual eukaryotic 5'-cap. A recently-discovered protein, IFIT, can bind this foreign RNA, allowing the immune system to distinguish "self" from "non-self" RNA and initiate processes that serve to prevent the virus from making viable copies of itself. The mechanism for IFIT recognition of foreign viral RNA is the subject of new research, which may pave the way for new developments in the treatment of viral infections. Researchers have used data collected at the CMCF to solve crystal structures of a human IFIT with and without bound PPP-RNAs. These fascinating structures reveal a cavity within the protein designed to accept only single-stranded PPP-RNAs, yet with the necessary ability to be non sequence specific. PDB ID: 4hoq

  • Developing new antibiotics Image

    Research Highlight: Developing new antibiotics

    Posted on September 19, 2012
    β-lactams are an important class of antibiotics that includes penicillins and carbapenems. A readily-transferable antibiotic resistance factor called New Delhi metallo-β-lactamase-1 (NDM-1) has been found in enteric bacteria. It confers resistance to β-lactams including some critical antibiotics that are presently considered to be the "last line of defence" against multi-drug resistant Gram negative bacteria. The most clinically significant of these lactamases have 2 active site Zn ions. Researchers have used data collected at the CMCF to describe the details of how β-lactam antibiotics are recognized by these Zn-containing enzymes, including a crystal structure having a potential inhibitor bound.

  • Exploring small RNA sorting in plants Image

    Research Highlight: Exploring small RNA sorting in plants

    Posted on August 08, 2012
    Small RNA molecules that occur naturally in animals and plants are critical for the regulation of eukaryotic cellular processes. They serve to silence gene expression in various ways including via chromosomal modifications and post-transcriptional effects. These small RNAs are typically 20-30 nucleotides in length and associate with Argonaute proteins to form the RNA-induced silencing complex. In order to function properly, the Argonaute protein must bind to the correct class of small RNA. The 5'-nucleotide of the small RNA is recognized by the MID domain in human Argonaute proteins and this is critical for the correct sorting and association. Now researchers have determined that a similar structural mechanism also occurs in plant Argonaute proteins and, because of the greater complexity of small RNAs in plants, recognition interactions appear to have a corresponding complexity all their own. PDB ID: 4g0x.

  • Exposing the Secret Lives of Parasites Image

    Research Highlight: Exposing the Secret Lives of Parasites

    Posted on August 11, 2011
    Toxoplasma and Plasmodium parasites cause numerous diseases worldwide, including malaria and toxoplasmosis. Interestingly, these parasites attack host cells in a very active manner, providing the receptor for binding to the host cell. Interaction thus occurs through a protein called AMA1 to a rhoptry neck (RON) complex provided by the parasite and injected into the host cell. Now researchers have used data collected at the CMCF to determined the structure of AMA1 with a RON2 peptide to give insight into this interaction. PDB ID: 2Y8T and 2Y8S.

  • Research Highlight: Resisting Antibiotic Resistance

    Posted on July 12, 2011
    Bacteria from the genus Chlamydia cause a number of serious health conditions in humans. As antibiotic resistance increases in these organisms, methods of combating infections are becomming increasingly urgent. Researchers from the University of Alberta are using the Canadian Macromolecular Crystallography Facility in their investigation of an alternate route of lysine biosynthesis in Chlamydia that is an excellent target for the development of new and specific antibiotics.

  • New Class of Chaperone Protein Discovered Image

    Research Highlight: New Class of Chaperone Protein Discovered

    Posted on February 16, 2011
    Chaperone proteins make possible the correct folding of other protein molecules in the cell. Researchers have induced bacteria to overproduce a periplasmic chaperone protein called Spy. These unique cradle-shaped dimers help protein refolding and suppress protein aggregation independently of ATP.

  • Insight into heart diseases Image

    Research Highlight: Insight into heart diseases

    Posted on November 27, 2010
    Genetic variation in ryanodine receptor 'hotspots' can play a role in diseases affecting muscles, including congenital heart disease. Researchers from the University of British Columbia have combined crystallographic data obtained at beamline 08ID-1 and the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource with electron microscopy data to shed light on amino-terminal ryanodine receptor disease hotspot. To view the complete media release click here. PDB ID: 2XOA.

  • Understanding pollutant degradation by bacteria Image

    Research Highlight: Understanding pollutant degradation by bacteria

    Posted on November 08, 2010
    HMG/CHA aldolase from Pseudomonas putida is part of a larger pathway for breaking down harmful components of fossil fuel pollution and coal derivatives (fluorene and its analogues) and substances found in plastics and pesticides (phthalate isomers). The researchers have grown crystals of the enzyme and solved the crystal structure in order to better understand how the active site is organized. This has allowed them to propose a catalytic mechanism based on the structural features, kinetics and information available about related aldolases. PDB ID: 3NOJ.

  • Setting Sights on New Antibiotics Image

    Research Highlight: Setting Sights on New Antibiotics

    Posted on August 24, 2010
    The need for novel antibiotics is increasingly pressing in the face of the rising threat of bacteria resistant to existing drugs. One approach for such antibiotics is to target the building blocks of bacterial cell walls. One such component is lipopolysaccharide, formed from sugars that are in turn produced using the enzyme UDP-galactopyranose mutase (UGM). Researchers from the University of Saskatchewan isolated UGM in a form bound to sugars and obtained its crystal structure. This information may be used to design drugs that inhibit the enzyme's activity and thus block the formation of bacterial cell walls.

  • Putting the Bloom on the Diatom  Image

    Research Highlight: Putting the Bloom on the Diatom

    Posted on August 24, 2010
    Diatoms are unicellular phytoplankton that account for much of the primary productivity in the world's oceans. The growth and population size of diatoms is dependent on the availability of iron. Using data from the 08ID-1 beamline, researchers from the University of British Columbia determined that pennate diatoms are able to produce an iron-concentrating protein, ferritin, to store iron and thrive in areas that are usually iron-poor.

  • Getting TB Off Steroids Image

    Research Highlight: Getting TB Off Steroids

    Posted on August 24, 2010
    Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb), the bacteria that causes tuberculosis, is a resilient organism that can only be effectively treated by a lengthy course of multiple drugs. Mtb is able to survive by harvesting the cholesterol stored in white blood cells. Researchers from the University of British Columbia used the 08ID-1 beamline to collect data about the strucuture of KshAB, one of the enzymes used to break down cholesterol. This structural information can be used to design drugs to interfere with the enzyme and develop improved drugs for the treatment of tuberculosis.

  • A Promising Strategy to Treat Malaria Image

    Research Highlight: A Promising Strategy to Treat Malaria

    Posted on August 24, 2010
    Malaria, caused by Plasmodia parasites, has re-emerged as a major problem, imposing its fatal effects on human health, especially due to multidrug resistance. In Plasmodia, orotidine 5’-monophosphate decarboxylase (ODCase) is an essential enzyme for the de novo synthesis of uridine 5’-monophosphate. Impairing ODCase in these pathogens is a promising strategy to develop novel classes of therapeutics. Researchers from the group of Dr. E. Pai (University of Toronto) used data from the 08ID-1 beamline to investigate the structure–activity relationships of various novel inhibitors of ODCase.

  • Revealing Norwalk Virus’ Achilles Heel Image

    Research Highlight: Revealing Norwalk Virus’ Achilles Heel

    Posted on August 24, 2010
    Outbreaks of Norwalk virus are notorious for causing severe dehydration due to vomiting and diarrhea. The currently untreatable bug belongs to a superfamily of viruses that stores their genetic code as RNA. Researchers at the University of Calgary used high-resolution data from the 08ID-1 beamline to determine the structure the Norwalk virus polymerase in various complexed states. The information is crucial to better understand viral replication and for drug development.