The Martin Group is dedicated to understanding how protein machines operate in health and disease. A major technology that we use is protein crystallography for 3D structure determination.
We also perform a broad range of biochemical assays to discover enzyme inhibitors that could lead to potent pharmaceutical drugs - and to simply understand the molecular mechanisms behind cellular functions so we can identify what is going wrong when someone is affected by a disease.
What is Protein Crystallography?
Proteins are tiny. In terms of scale, if one cell in our body was the size of a cricket oval, then proteins are about the size of a cricket ball standing on that field. Because they are so small (relative scale here), we can’t see their shape and structure using a traditional light microscope. That’s where protein crystallography comes in.
In a crystal, we have thousands of copies of the protein so the crystal basically serves to magnify the signal. We also need a very bright light to see these tiny molecules. We use either X-rays or synchrotron radiation as our ‘light’ source. Synchrotrons such as the Australian Synchrotron (https://www.synchrotron.org.au) produce synchrotron light that is thousands of times brighter than standard x-ray sources.
The process of seeing the structure of a protein using this technique is not straightforward. We usually produce large amounts of the protein, make sure it is very pure, make a crystal from the protein, and then hope the crystal is ordered enough to diffract the x-rays. Using complicated computer software we are then able to determine the structure.
The whole process can take years to complete, however the beautiful structures we are able to obtain are extremely useful for understanding the underlying mechanisms of disesaes. Therefore, they are critical tools in the developement of new therapies.
For a beautiful animated explanation of X-ray crystallography you can watch the following link:
For examples of structures we have sold, look up the PDB structures tab above.