Academic Publications

2017 | Nature Scientific Data | Contributing Author

X-ray free-electron lasers provide novel opportunities to conduct single particle analysis on nanoscale particles. Coherent diffractive imaging experiments were performed at the Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS), SLAC National Laboratory, exposing single inorganic core-shell nanoparticles to femtosecond hard-X-ray pulses. Each facetted nanoparticle consisted of a crystalline gold core and a differently shaped palladium shell. Scattered intensities were observed up to about 7 nm resolution. Analysis of the scattering patterns revealed the size distribution of the samples, which is consistent with that obtained from direct real-space imaging by electron microscopy. Scattering patterns resulting from single particles were selected and compiled into a dataset which can be valuable for algorithm developments in single particle scattering research.

2016 | Journal of Virological Methods | First Author

Inherent in the study of viruses is the risk of pathogenic exposure, which necessitates appropriate levels of biosafety containment. Unfortunately, this also limits the availability of useful research instruments that are located at facilities not equipped to handle infectious pathogens. Abrogation of viral infectivity can be accomplished without severely disrupting the physical structure of the virus particle. Virus samples that are verifiably intact but not infectious may be enabled for study at research facilities where they would otherwise not be allowed. Inactivated viruses are also used in the development of vaccines, where immunogenicity is sought in the absence of active infection. We demonstrate the inactivation of Sindbis alphavirus particles in solution, as well as in crystallized form. Inactivation was accomplished by two different approaches: crosslinking of proteins by glutaraldehyde treatment, and crosslinking of nucleic acids by UV irradiation. Biophysical characterization methods, including dynamic light scattering and transmission electron microscopy, were used to demonstrate that the glutaraldehyde and UV inactivated Sindbis virus particles remain intact structurally. SDS-PAGE was also used to show evidence of the protein crosslinking that was expected with glutaraldehyde treatment, but also observed with UV irradiation.

2016 | Acta Crystallographica Section D | Contributing Author

The crystallization of protein samples remains the most significant challenge in structure determination by X-ray crystallography. Here, the effectiveness of transmission electron microscopy (TEM) analysis to aid in the crystallization of biological macromolecules is demonstrated. It was found that the presence of well ordered lattices with higher order Bragg spots, revealed by Fourier analysis of TEM images, is a good predictor of diffraction-quality crystals. Moreover, the use of TEM allowed (i) comparison of lattice quality among crystals from different conditions in crystallization screens; (ii) the detection of crystal pathologies that could contribute to poor X-ray diffraction, including crystal lattice defects, anisotropic diffraction and crystal contamination by heavy protein aggregates and nanocrystal nuclei; (iii) the qualitative estimation of crystal solvent content to explore the effect of lattice dehydration on diffraction and (iv) the selection of high-quality crystal fragments for microseeding experiments to generate reproducibly larger sized crystals. Applications to X-ray free-electron laser (XFEL) and micro-electron diffraction (microED) experiments are also discussed.

2016 | Analyst | Second Author

Biotechnology, separation science, and clinical research are impacted by microfluidic devices. Separation and manipulation of bioparticles such as DNA, protein and viruses are performed on these platforms. Microfluidic systems provide many attractive features, including small sample size, rapid detection, high sensitivity and short processing time. Dielectrophoresis (DEP) and electrophoresis are especially well suited to microscale bioparticle control and have been demonstrated in many formats. In this work, an optimized gradient insulator-based DEP device was utilized for concentration of Sindbis virus, an animal virus with a diameter of 68 nm. Within only a few seconds, the concentration of Sindbis virus can be increased by two to six times in the channel under easily accessible voltages as low as about 70 V. Compared with traditional diagnostic methods used in virology, DEP-based microfluidics can enable faster isolation, detection and concentration of viruses in a single step within a short time.

2015 | Structural Dynamics | First Author

Serial femtosecond crystallography (SFX) using X-ray free-electron lasers has produced high-resolution, room temperature, time-resolved protein structures. We report preliminary SFX of Sindbis virus, an enveloped icosahedral RNA virus with ∼700 Å diameter. Microcrystals delivered in viscous agarose medium diffracted to ∼40 Å resolution. Small-angle diffuse X-ray scattering overlaid Bragg peaks and analysis suggests this results from molecular transforms of individual particles. Viral proteins undergo structural changes during entry and infection, which could, in principle, be studied with SFX. This is an important step toward determining room temperature structures from virus microcrystals that may enable time-resolved studies of enveloped viruses.

2014 | IUCrJ | Contributing Author

CTB-MPR is a fusion protein between the B subunit of cholera toxin (CTB) and the membrane-proximal region of gp41 (MPR), the transmembrane envelope protein of Human immunodeficiency virus 1 (HIV-1), and has previously been shown to induce the production of anti-HIV-1 antibodies with antiviral functions. To further improve the design of this candidate vaccine, X-ray crystallography experiments were performed to obtain structural information about this fusion protein. Several variants of CTB-MPR were designed, constructed and recombinantly expressed in Escherichia coli. The first variant contained a flexible GPGP linker between CTB and MPR, and yielded crystals that diffracted to a resolution of 2.3 Å, but only the CTB region was detected in the electron-density map. A second variant, in which the CTB was directly attached to MPR, was shown to destabilize pentamer formation. A third construct containing a polyalanine linker between CTB and MPR proved to stabilize the pentameric form of the protein during purification. The purification procedure was shown to produce a homogeneously pure and monodisperse sample for crystallization. Initial crystallization experiments led to pseudo-crystals which were ordered in only two dimensions and were disordered in the third dimension. Nanocrystals obtained using the same precipitant showed promising X-ray diffraction to 5 Å resolution in femtosecond nanocrystallography experiments at the Linac Coherent Light Source at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. The results demonstrate the utility of femtosecond X-ray crystallography to enable structural analysis based on nano/microcrystals of a protein for which no macroscopic crystals ordered in three dimensions have been observed before.

2011 | Protein Expression & Purification | First Author

In chloroplasts, the multimeric ATP synthase produces the adenosine triphosphate (ATP) that is required for photosynthetic metabolism. The synthesis of ATP is mechanically coupled to the rotation of a ring of c-subunits, which is imbedded in the thylakoid membrane. The rotation of this c-subunit ring is driven by the translocation of protons across this membrane, along an electrochemical gradient. The ratio of protons translocated to ATP synthesized varies according to the number of c-subunits (n) per oligomeric ring (cn) in the enzyme, which is organism dependent. Although this ratio is inherently related to the metabolism of the organism, the exact cause of the cn variability is not well understood. In order to investigate the factors that may contribute to this stoichiometric variation, we have developed a recombinant bacterial expression and column purification system for the c1 monomeric subunit. Using a plasmid with a codon optimized gene insert, the hydrophobic c1 subunit is first expressed as a soluble MBP-c1 fusion protein, then cleaved from the maltose binding protein (MBP) and purified on a reversed phase column. This novel approach enables the soluble expression of an eukaryotic membrane protein in BL21 derivative Escherichia coli cells. We have obtained significant quantities of highly purified c1 subunit using these methods, and we have confirmed that the purified c1 has the correct alpha-helical secondary structure. This work will enable further investigation into the undefined factors that affect the c-ring stoichiometry and structure. The c-subunit chosen for this work is that of spinach (Spinacia oleracea) chloroplast ATP synthase.

2011 | PhD Dissertation, Arizona State University | Sole Author

ATP synthase is a large multimeric protein complex responsible for generating the energy molecule adenosine triphosphate (ATP) in most organisms. The catalysis involves the rotation of a ring of c-subunits, which is driven by the transmembrane electrochemical gradient. This dissertation reports how the eukaryotic c-subunit from spinach chloroplast ATP synthase has successfully been expressed in Escherichia coli and purified in mg quantities by incorporating a unique combination of methods. Expression was accomplished using a codon optimized gene for the c-subunit, and it was expressed as an attachment to the larger, more soluble, native maltose binding protein (MBP-c1). The fusion protein MBP-c1 was purified on an affinity column, and the c1 subunit was subsequently severed by protease cleavage in the presence of detergent. Final purification of the monomeric c1 subunit was accomplished using reversed phase column chromatography with ethanol as an eluent. Circular dichroism spectroscopy data showed clear evidence that the purified c-subunit is folded with the native alpha-helical secondary structure. Recent experiments appear to indicate that this monomeric recombinant c-subunit forms an oligomeric ring that is similar to its native tetradecameric form when reconstituted in liposomes. The F-type ATP synthase c-subunit stoichiometry is currently known to vary from 8 to 15 subunits among different organisms. This has a direct influence on the metabolic requirements of the corresponding organism because each c-subunit binds and transports one H+ across the membrane as the ring makes a complete rotation. The c-ring rotation drives rotation of the gamma-subunit, which in turn drives the synthesis of 3 ATP for every complete rotation. The availability of a recombinantly produced c-ring will lead to new experiments which can be designed to investigate the possible factors that determine the variable c-ring stoichiometry and structure.