NTRS - NASA Technical Reports Server

Back to Results
Fluid Physics and Macromolecular Crystal Growth in MicrogravityThe first protein crystallization experiment in microgravity was launched in April, 1981 and used Germany's Technologische Experimente unter Schwerelosigkeit (TEXUS 3) sounding rocket. The protein P-galactosidase (molecular weight 465Kda) was chosen as the sample with a liquid-liquid diffusion growth method. A sliding device brought the protein, buffer and salt solution into contact when microgravity was reached. The sounding rocket gave six minutes of microgravity time with a cine camera and schlieren optics used to monitor the experiment, a single growth cell. In microgravity a strictly laminar diffusion process was observed in contrast to the turbulent convection seen on the ground. Several single crystals, approx 100micron in length, were formed in the flight which were of inferior but of comparable visual quality to those grown on the ground over several days. A second experiment using the same protocol but with solutions cooled to -8C (kept liquid with glycerol antifreeze) again showed laminar diffusion. The science of macromolecular structural crystallography involves crystallization of the macromolecule followed by use of the crystal for X-ray diffraction experiments to determine the three dimensional structure of the macromolecule. Neutron protein crystallography is employed for elucidation of H/D exchange and for improved definition of the bound solvent (D20). The structural information enables an understanding of how the molecule functions with important potential for rational drug design, improved efficiency of industrial enzymes and agricultural chemical development. The removal of turbulent convection and sedimentation in microgravity, and the assumption that higher quality crystals will be produced, has given rise to the growing number of crystallization experiments now flown. Many experiments can be flown in a small volume with simple, largely automated, equipment - an ideal combination for a microgravity experiment. The term "protein crystal growth" is often historically used to describe these microgravity experiments. This is somewhat inaccurate as the field involves the study of many varied biological molecules including viruses, proteins, DNA, RNA and complexes of those structures. For this reason we use the term macromolecular crystal growth. In this chapter we review a series of diagnostic microgravity crystal growth experiments carried out principally using the European Space Agency (ESA) Advanced Protein Crystallization Facility (APCF). We also review related research, both experimental and theoretical, on the aspects of microgravity fluid physics that affect microgravity protein crystal growth. Our experiments have revealed some surprises that were not initially expected. We discuss them here in the context of practical lessons learnt and how to maximize the limited microgravity opportunities available.
Document ID
Document Type
Preprint (Draft being sent to journal)
Helliwell, John R.
(Manchester Univ. United Kingdom)
Snell, Edward H.
(NASA Marshall Space Flight Center Huntsville, AL United States)
Chayen, Naomi E.
(Imperial Coll. Field Station London, United Kingdom)
Judge, Russell A.
(NASA Marshall Space Flight Center Huntsville, AL United States)
Boggon, Titus J.
(Manchester Univ. United Kingdom)
Pusey, M. L.
(NASA Marshall Space Flight Center Huntsville, AL United States)
Rose, M. Franklin
Date Acquired
August 19, 2013
Publication Date
August 22, 2000
Subject Category
Space Processing
Distribution Limits
Work of the US Gov. Public Use Permitted.

Available Downloads

There are no available downloads for this record.
No Preview Available