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Researchers at the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI have used the Swiss Light Source SLS to record a molecular energy machine in action and thus to reveal how energy production at cell membranes works. For this purpose they developed a new investigative method that could make the analysis of cellular processes significantly more effective than before. They have now published their results in the journal Science.
In all living things, structural changes in proteins are responsible for many biochemically controlled functions, for example energy production at cell membranes. The protein bacteriorhodopsin occurs in microorganisms that live on the surface of lakes, streams, and other bodies of water. Activated by sunlight, this molecule pumps positively charged particles, protons, from the inside to the outside through the cell membrane. While doing this, it is constantly changing its structure.
PSI - Researchers - Part - Process - Lasers
PSI researchers were already able to elucidate one part of this process at free-electron X-ray lasers (FELs) such as SwissFEL. Now they have also managed to record the still unknown part of the process in a kind of molecular movie. For this they took a method that had previously been usable only at FELs and further developed it for use at the Swiss Light Source SLS. The study underlines the synergy between the analytical options at these two large-scale research facilities at PSI. "With the new method at SLS, we can now follow the last part of the movement of bacteriorhodopsin, where the steps are in the millisecond range," explains Tobias Weinert, first author of the paper. "With measurements at FELs in the U.S. and Japan, we had already measured the first two sub-processes before SwissFEL was commissioned," Weinert says. "These take place very fast, within femtoseconds to microseconds." A femtosecond is one-trillionth of a second.
To be able to observe such processes, the researchers use so-called "pump-probe"...
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