NanoRacks-Valley Christian High School-Protein Crystallization in Space (NanoRacks-VCHS-Protein Crystallization in Space) - 11.22.16

Overview | Description | Applications | Operations | Results | Publications | Imagery

ISS Science for Everyone

Science Objectives for Everyone
Proteins are large, complex molecules that drive many of life’s processes, and crystallizing them allows researchers to study their structure and function in greater detail. NanoRacks-Valley Christian High School-Protein Crystallization in Space (NanoRacks-VCHS-Protein Crystallization in Space) crystallizes a lattice-structured protein called SOD1, which is linked to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Microgravity enables the formation of larger, more perfect crystals so scientists can better determine the protein’s structure, leading to new methods for treating this debilitating disease.
 
Science Results for Everyone
Information Pending

The following content was provided by Dan Saldana, ISS Project Leader, and is maintained in a database by the ISS Program Science Office.
Experiment Details

OpNom: NanoRacks Module-16 S/N 1003

Principal Investigator(s)
Valley Christian High School , San Jose, CA, United States

Co-Investigator(s)/Collaborator(s)
Dan Saldana, ISS Project Leader, Valley Christian High School, San Jose, CA, United States

Developer(s)
Valley Christian High School , San Jose , CA, United States
NanoRacks LLC, Webster, TX, United States

Sponsoring Space Agency
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

Sponsoring Organization
National Laboratory Education (NLE)

Research Benefits
Scientific Discovery

ISS Expedition Duration
March 2015 - March 2016

Expeditions Assigned
43/44,45/46

Previous Missions
Information Pending

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Experiment Description

Research Overview

  • Protein crystallization, the process of creating a protein crystal, is used to determine a protein’s three-dimensional structure.
  • After protein crystallization, X-ray crystallography is employed to model the chemical structure of the protein of interest. However, on earth, gravity inhibits the growth of certain large, organized protein crystals suitable for X-ray crystallography, causing the formation of disordered aggregates instead.
  • The microgravity environment aboard the International Space Station (ISS) is conducive to the growth of ordered, lattice-structured proteins. One such group of proteins is the amyloid family.
  • The purpose of the NanoRacks-Valley Christian High School-Protein Crystallization in Space (NanoRacks-VCHS-Protein Crystallization in Space) experiment is to crystallize the superoxide dismutase 1 (SOD1) enzyme, an amyloid protein. SOD1 is one of the three SOD enzymes expressed in humans.
  • Over 150 mutations in the SOD1 gene have been found to cause genetic amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), while some evidence links mutations in the gene to sporadic ALS cases. Investigating the structure of SOD1 may reveal new methods of treating this debilitating disorder.

Description
NanoRacks-Valley Christian High School-Protein Crystallization in Space (NanoRacks-VCHS-Protein Crystallization in Space) contains a protein crystal growth project for both wild-type and YFP-tagged (yellow fluorescent Protein) superoxide dismutase 1 (SOD1) enzyme variants.  Superoxide dismutase proteins catalyze the dismutation (process of simultaneous oxidation and reduction) of superoxide free radicals (O2-) into oxygen and hydrogen peroxide. SOD1 is one of the three SOD enzymes expressed in humans. Over 150 mutations in the SOD1 gene have been found to cause genetic amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), while some evidence links mutations in the gene to sporadic ALS cases. The mutated alleles for the SOD1 gene are dominant, so the inheritance of even a single mutation can cause the disease. Furthermore, the exact mechanism of how mutated SOD1 proteins cause ALS is unknown.

NanoRacks-VCHS-Protein Crystallization in Space employs the vapor diffusion method of protein crystallization, which creates large, and uniformly structured crystals, two essential qualities of a crystal viable for research. In this method, chemical equilibrium is established between two solutions:  a small droplet and a larger reservoir. The droplet contains purified protein, as well as low concentrations of precipitant, which facilitates the crystallization. The reservoir contains higher concentrations of similar precipitant. As these two solutions equilibrate, water from the droplet is transferred to the reservoir, and the droplet’s concentrations of both protein and precipitant increase towards saturation. The protein then begins to crystallize. In the sitting-drop vapor diffusion method, the droplet is raised on a stand, separate from the reservoir. This method is ideal for creating protein crystals because the droplet’s concentration gradually increases towards saturation, allowing for a moderate crystallization process.

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Applications

Space Applications
In space, convection and gravity do not interfere with crystal formation, yielding larger and higher-quality protein crystals. Scientists use X-ray techniques to study large crystals and determine how protein molecules are organized. This investigation crystallizes an amyloid protein called superoxide dismutase 1 (SOD1), which is implicated in ALS. Results improve protein crystallization techniques on the International Space Station, which could lead to space-based drug production.

Earth Applications

Students from Valley Christian High School developed, built and tested the experiments in this investigation, connecting young people to the space program and providing a unique educational opportunity. In addition, results from this investigation shed new light on the molecular underpinnings of a debilitating disease, ALS, which affects 30,000 people in the United States.
 

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Operations

Operational Requirements and Protocols

Data collection within the experiment is automated; downlink is done via scheduled STELLA/NanoRacks command window intervals for the NanoRacks Platform. Payload is ambient and soft-stowed, but late loaded (approximately L-72 hr) and an early return.

Crew interaction is limited to transferring the NanoRacks Module from the launch vehicle to the ISS, installing the Module into a NanoRacks Platform, activating the NanoRacks Platform, data retrieval (as needed) during the mission, and destowing and returning the Module.

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Decadal Survey Recommendations

Information Pending

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Results/More Information

Information Pending

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Related Websites
NanoRacks

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Imagery

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The NanoRacks-Valley Christian High School-Protein Crystallization in Space (NanoRacks-VCHS-Protein Crystallization in Space) investigation team from San Jose, CA.  Image courtesy of Valley Christian High School.

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Designing the NanoRacks-Valley Christian High School-Protein Crystallization in Space (NanoRacks-VCHS-Protein Crystallization in Space) experiment printed circuit board.  Image courtesy of Valley Christian High School.

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Filling the NanoRacks-Valley Christian High School-Protein Crystallization in Space (NanoRacks-VCHS-Protein Crystallization in Space) experiment with saturated protein solutions.  Image courtesy of Valley Christian High School.

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Soldering the NanoRacks-Valley Christian High School-Protein Crystallization in Space (NanoRacks-VCHS-Protein Crystallization in Space) experiment ground test printed circuit board.  Image courtesy of Valley Christian High School.

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