February 6, 2004  


SLAC and Caltech Collaborate on New SPEAR3 Beam Line to Read a Molecule’s Blueprints  

By Neil Calder

Just as astronomers image very large objects at great distances to understand what makes the universe tick, biologists and chemists need to image very small molecules to understand what makes living systems tick.

Now this quest will be enhanced by a gift of over 14 million dollars from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation to the California Institute of Technology, which will allow scientists at SSRL and Caltech to collaborate on the building of a new beam line at SPEAR3 for structural molecular biology.

The beam line is an ultra powerful x-ray machine that will enable scientists from both institutions and around the world to ‘read’ the blueprints of so-called macromolecules down at the level of atoms. The exceptional quality and brightness of the x-ray light from SPEAR3 is perfectly suited to the study of complicated biological systems. Specially designed instruments will allow fully automated sample manipulation via a robotic system and integrated software controls. Internet-based tools will allow researchers at Caltech or remote locations to control the experiments and analyze data in real time.

Macromolecules, large molecules that include proteins and nucleic acids (DNA and RNA), carry out the fundamental cellular processes responsible for biological life. By understanding their makeup, scientists can glean how they interact with each other and their surroundings, and subsequently determine how they function. This knowledge, while of inherent importance to the study of biology, could also have significant practical applications, including the design of new drugs. Knowing the molecular-scale blueprint of macromolecules will ultimately help answer such fundamental questions as: "How are the chemical processes underlying life achieved and regulated in cells?" "How does a motor or pump work that is a millionth of a centimeter in size?" "How is information transmitted in living systems?"

"I would like to thank the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation for this generous gift [to Caltech]," said Raymond L. Orbach, Director of DOE’s Office of Science. "This grant will advance the frontiers of biological science in very important and exciting ways. It also launches a dynamic collaboration between two great universities, Caltech and Stanford, at a Department of Energy research facility, thereby enhancing the investment of the federal government."


The Stanford Linear Accelerator Center is managed by Stanford University for the US Department of Energy

Last update Tuesday February 03, 2004 by Emily Ball