HudsonAlpha associate growing crystals in space

Huntsville, Ala. – An experiment by HudsonAlpha associate company iXPressGenes launched today onboard the SpaceX Dragon capsule en route to the International Space Station.

Synthetic and bioengineering company iXpressGenes was one of the first recipients of a grant from the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space to send an experiment on advancing protein crystallization in microgravity to the ISS national laboratory.

iXpress is growing protein crystals on the ISS for neutron crystallography, which is the only biophysical technique to definitively locate hydrogen atoms in a protein using neutron radiation, said iXpressGenes President Joseph Ng, Ph.D. “About half of a protein’s atoms are comprised of hydrogens, and knowing their positions can help us understand the function of the proteins associated with health, defense, energy or agriculture,” Ng said.

Obtaining large volume crystals is more difficult on Earth due to gravity, but in the microgravity of space, protein crystals can be grown to large dimensions.

iXpressGenes is studying a protein that is an enzyme called inorganic pyrophosphatase, or IPPase. IPPase is coupled to biochemical reactions associated with the passage of genetic information including DNA replication and processes related to gene expression.

The company is interested in understanding the structural architecture of IPPase. “If we can know the atomic spatial arrangements of every atom in IPPase, we would be able to modify the enzyme by bioengineering techniques to make it more active or design molecules that can inhibit the protein,” explained Ng. “In case the IPPase is from a pathogen, an antibiotic can be made to deactivate the enzyme.”

The process begins at HudsonAlpha where scientists at iXpressGenes produce large amounts of proteins and test conditions that are optimal for crystal growth on the space station. The proteins will be onboard the space station for approximately six months.

About HudsonAlpha: The HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology is a genomic science and applications nonprofit organization. It is a high-volume genomic data producer serving thousands of academic, clinical and commercial clients’ needs. The Institute is a global scientific collaborator valued for its genomic data analysis and interpretation to solve some of the most pressing questions in cancer, undiagnosed childhood genetic disorders, neuropsychiatric disorders, immune-mediated disease, agriculture and public health. Its unique 152 acre campus melds the boundaries between nonprofit scientists, educators and entrepreneurs so that collaboration sparks innovation and growth. In addition, HudsonAlpha offers a growing biotech hub to small companies and start-ups by providing access to outside experts, marketing direction and strategic networking opportunities. To learn more about HudsonAlpha, visit: www.hudsonalpha.org.

About iXpress: : iXpressGenes is a synthetic biology company located at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology. Our company specializes in protein services and instrumentation, and protein and genetic engineering research. We support commercial, institutional and academic organizations. We have a special background in extremozymes, microgravity and trace fluorescent labeling. iXpressGenes has exclusive access to a suite of hyperthermophilic genomes from the deep sea vents of the Atlantic Ridge. Proteins and enzymes from these genomes have special qualities that are useful in engineering and metabolic reactions. Our team has deep experience in microgravity, having conducted several experiments on the International Space Station. These experiments have led us to diffraction studies in both X ray and neutron beam. Years of research in protein crystallization led us to a new technique that is highly effective in finding and discerning leads – trace fluorescent labeling. Our disciplines are in biochemistry, structural genomics and instrumentation.

HudsonAlpha Media Contact:
Margetta Thomas
256-327-0425
mthomas@hudsonalpha.org

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