SACLA Science Research Group’s Introduction
We are employing X-ray free-electron lasers to acquire and analyze dynamic structures with a high spatial and temporal resolution, targeting biopolymers such as proteins. The group started in 2012, and the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology commissioned the X-ray Free Electron Laser Priority Strategy Program “Rapid structure determination system for drug-target proteins utilizing the X-ray free-electron laser” (called SACLA-SFX project). Using an X-ray free-electron laser (XFEL), an ultra-high intensity femtosecond X-ray pulse, we aimed to develop a new method to determine the structure of a protein including a membrane protein, quickly and with a high spatial resolution. So Iwata, group director, promoted the project with collaborators, including >10 research groups and SACLA beamline researchers to establish the foundation of equipment and techniques for serial femtosecond crystallography (SFX), a protein crystal structural analysis using XFEL (finished in March 2017).
Since 2014, we have developed techniques for “time-resolved SFX”, also called “molecular movie analysis”. This method has been the mainstream for SFX experiments that are currently being conducted at SACLA. XFEL enables us to capture the moment when molecules such as proteins rapidly change and initiate a chemical reaction. At present, time-resolved SFX is the only method that allows real-time observation and dynamic structural analysis with a high spatial and temporal resolution. Our project “Non-equilibrium-state molecular movies and their applications” led by So Iwata was approved as a Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research on Innovative Areas in 2019, promoting technological developments of molecular movie analysis with collaborators from multidisciplinary research fields, such as computational science, chemical biology, spectroscopy, and structural biology. In addition, we provide consulting and experimental assistance, financially supported by “the Basis for Supporting Innovative Drug Discovery and Life Science Research” (BINDS).