ASU research makes Science's top 10 breakthroughs

January 13, 2013

ASU scientists have been lauded by the journal Science, which cited their groundbreaking research on protein structures as one of the top 10 breakthroughs of 2012.

Working as part of an international team, the ASU researchers have been central to the technological developments leading to a stream of exciting discoveries since 2009 – the most recent of which were reported in a November 2012 edition of Science. Petra Lab Download Full Image

For the first time, the scientists determined the three dimensional structure of a protein by the method of femtosecond nanocrystallography, a highly innovative technique that was developed by the team at ASU and their collaborators using X-ray laser diffraction from the LCLS free-electron laser.

Contradictory to popular opinion, this technique successfully demonstrates that high quality data can be acquired so quickly that reaction chemistry involving proteins can now be studied in real time. This method goes well beyond form, but goes into function where changes in a molecule can be seen in action.

“The ASU team is one of the pioneers of the method of fs crystallography," said ASU Regents' Professor John Spence. "Our work includes the design of a sample delivery system, the identification and discovery of nanocrystals, as well as the development of the theory and computer algorithms used to analyze the data. The method is so exciting as its further development will allow us to determine movies of molecular machines at work."

The technique – described in the paper “High-resolution protein structure determination by serial femtosecond crystallography” – works at a higher resolution than previously achieved using X-ray lasers, allowing scientists to use smaller crystals than typical with other methods that grow inside living cells, and could enable researchers to view molecular dynamics at a time-scale never observed before. SLAC’s Linac Coherent LightSource (LCLS) shines a billion times brighter than traditional synchrotron X-ray sources.

Science stated that “the grand goal is to push X-ray diffraction to its ultimate limit and use an X-ray laser to decipher a protein structure by zapping individual molecules.” According to Science, the success of the study "shows the potential of X-ray lasers to decipher proteins that conventional X-ray sources cannot.”

Advancements in this research may be of great importance for the development of new drugs to fight African sleeping sickness, which kills approximately 30,000 people each year. This method shows novel features of the structure of the CatB protein, a protease that is essential for the pathogenesis, including the structure of the natural inhibitor peptide bound in the catalytic cleft of the enzyme. The discovery of the enzyme’s 3D structure has enabled the researchers to pinpoint distinctive structural differences between the human and the parasite’s form of the enzyme.

The research is accomplished by a large international team which involves, in addition to ASU, key institutions including the Center of Free-Electron Laser Science at DESY in Hamburg, University of Luebeck, who grew the crystals of CatB and the Max Plank Institute in Heidelberg. Henry Chapman from the Center of Free-Electron Laser Science led the team of scientists for this study.

ASU contributors include the research groups of Spence, Bruce Doak and Uwe Weierstall from the Department of Physics, and Galvin Professor Petra Fromme from the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, all part of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

“In 2009 we showed the first proof of principle after the world’s first high-energy free-electron laser had become operational in Stanford,” said Fromme. “This leading technology will revolutionize the field of structural biology.”

“This research would not have been possible without the liquid jet injector for the nanocrystals developed at ASU (patent has been filed) nor the biochemical expertise that led to success in the preceding measurements, which laid the groundwork for the Trypanosoma work,” said Doak, professor from ASU’s Department of Physics.

The project depends on the excellent team of ASU’s research scientists, postdoctoral researchers and graduate students from Physics and Chemistry who work at ASU and travel with their professors to conduct the experiments at Stanford at the LCLS free-electron laser. These include faculty research associates Raimund Fromme, Ingo Grotjohann and Tzu-Chiao Chao; Nadia Zatsepin, post-doctoral researcher, graduate students Christopher Kupitz (Biochemistry) and Dingjie Wang (Physics); as well as Mark Hunter and Richard Kirian who graduated with PhDs from ASU in Chemistry and Physics respectively and now work on the femtosecond crystallography project at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and DESY (Deutsches Elektronen Synchrotron).

“ASU is proud of the achievements and dedication of these scientists for their innovative work in producing high-quality and groundbreaking discoveries that advance use-inspired research to combat disease,” said William Petuskey, associate vice president of natural/physical sciences and engineering/technology for ASU’s Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development. “This breakthrough will help pave the way for further advancements in biomedical research.”

The ASU team was awarded a patent for the sample delivery system, which uses microscopic (and even nanoscopic) liquid jets to inject samples into the X-ray beam.

Crow, Carter lauded for support of veterans

January 14, 2013

ASU President Michael Crow will receive the 2013 Copper Sword award – the Arizona Veterans Hall of Fame Society's highest award – for his support of veterans through his leadership, actions and advocacy.

The award will be presented on Feb. 13 during the 2013 Copper Sword and Copper Shield Award Gala at Tempe Mission Palms Hotel in Tempe. Michael Crow Download Full Image

This year’s Copper Shield award will be presented to Heather Carter, clinical associate professor in ASU's Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College and Arizona State Representative, R-Cave Creek and North Phoenix, who has acted to help the state's veterans, military service members, their families and survivors.

“It’s important to honor veterans’ service to their country with programs and services such as those we’ve instilled at ASU," Crow said. "We work to ensure that our returning servicemen and women have access to services that ease the transition into the civilian and academic environment.”

ASU serves veterans through venues such as the Pat Tillman Veterans Center that opened in 2011 to provide a single point of contact for ASU veterans and their dependents, bringing together academic and student support services to promote a smooth transition from the military and provide assistance for veterans’ benefits, deployments, information and referrals. It also serves as a place where veterans can gather to study and socialize.

In addition, ASU was named a “Military Friendly School for 2013” by GI jobs magazine – the fourth consecutive year the university has earned the honor.

Additionally, ASU was named one of the top 30 “Best for Vets: Colleges 2010” by Military Times Edge magazine, and the university was chosen as one of the first eight institutions to be part of the Veterans Affairs pilot program, VetSuccess on Campus.

Two Veterans Affairs staff, a vocational rehabilitation counselor and a Vet Center outreach coordinator are assigned and located on ASU’s campuses to assist veterans with services such as vocational testing, career counseling and readjustment counseling to promote successful completion of educational and employment goals.

ASU also was chosen as a University Partner for the 2012-2013 academic year in support of the Tillman Military Scholars program, which provides scholarships for active and veteran service members as well as their spouses. The Pat Tillman Foundation established the Tillman Military Scholars program in 2008 that is dedicated to supporting educational opportunities for service members and their families by filling the financial gaps in the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill. The Tillman Military Scholars program covers not only direct study-related expenses such as tuition and fees, but also other needs, including housing and child care.

Carter will be recognized for initiatives such as introducing a bill in the Arizona legislature that provides for employment preference for veterans when calculating points for employment with the state, counties, cities and towns, as well as other political subdivisions in the state. She has worked on other veterans issues as well.

For more information on ASU’s programs and support services for veteran students, visit For information about the gala, go to