Three-dimensional atomic structures of proteins form the foundation of our molecular understanding of biology. X-ray crystallography is the major and sometimes only tool for the determination of these detailed protein structures. The bottleneck of this method is to grow a large and good quality crystal used in diffraction. For membrane proteins which carry out some of the most fundamental processes in biology such as photosynthesis, vision and nerve communications, it is exceedingly difficult to find the optimal crystallization conditions because of their peculiar molecular properties. This difficulty is in no small part due to the lack of a transparent and reliable theoretical model to describe the crystallization process. Our research goal is to develop such a theoretical model and to explore the physical principles of finding optimal crystallization conditions. By studying the relationship between the crystallization conditions and the physical parameters of the protein solution, we should be able to provide useful guidance to the search for protein crystallization conditions.
Program mentor: Xueyu Song, professor of chemistry, Iowa State University