Canadian Protein Crystallization Experiment (CAPE) - MIM


Knowledge of protein structure is useful for basic biological research, pharmacology and drug development. Protein crystallization is one process used to determine protein structure. On Earth gravity plays a strong role in the crystal growth process by creating fluid flows that affect the purity and structural integrity of the crystals. The low gravity environment in space allows for the growth of larger purer crystals of greater structural integrity, facilitating structural analysis. A more thorough understanding of protein structure will enable scientists to study diseases and develop the most effective treatments and possible inhibitors.

Using the liquid-liquid diffusion technique, investigators of the Canadian Protein Crystallization Experiment (CAPE) hoped to grow large protein crystals that could be used to analyze the detailed structure of individual proteins. In addition, the resolution limits and mosaic spread between the space-grown crystals, ground-grown crystals, and space-grown crystals mounted on the Microgravity Isolation Mount (MIM) were compared.

Shuttle-Mir Missions

Two identical sets of approximately 800 samples of 37 individual proteins were grown in two separate crystallization units. The crystallization units used sliding blocks to mix protein solutions with precipitants. Certain cartridges of both sets had windows through which the growth process was videotaped. One set of crystal growing chambers was attached to the side of the Microgravity Isolation Mount (MIM) locker and subjected to Mir microaccelerations caused by crew movements, hardware activities and Mir operations. The second set was located on top of the magnetic flotor of the MIM, which isolated experiments from external forces, such as microaccelerations. Data from these two sets, when compared, was expected to show the effects of microgravity isolation on protein crystal growth. After return to Earth, the protein crystals were analyzed by x-ray diffraction techniques.

A total of 37 proteins were flown for the CAPE experiment on the NASA-6 mission. Of the 37, twenty-one produced crystals, and nine produced microcrystals. X-ray and video data analysis are currently under way.

None available at this time.

Principal Investigators
Jurgen Sygusch
University of Montreal

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Page last updated: 07/16/1999