Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Supercomputers help ORNL researchers identify key molecular switch that controls cell behavior

18.12.2013
If scientists can control cellular functions such as movement and development, they can cripple cells and pathogens that are causing disease in the body.

Supported by National Institutes of Health grants, researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), the University of Tennessee (UT), and the UT–ORNL Joint Institute for Computational Sciences (JICS) discovered a molecular “switch” in a receptor that controls cell behavior using detailed molecular dynamics simulations on a computer called Anton built by D. E. Shaw Research in New York City.


Red and blue molecules represent a conformational switch essential to the signaling mechanism of an E. coli chemoreceptor that researchers discovered using computational molecular dynamics simulations. Image credit: Davi Ortega

To study an even larger signaling complex surrounding the switch, the team is expanding these simulations on the 27-petaflop, CPU–GPU machine Titan—the nation’s most powerful supercomputer, managed by the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility at ORNL.

Researchers identified the molecular switch on Anton (which was designed to perform speedy molecular dynamics simulations) by simulating 140,000 atoms that make up the signaling part of the Tsr chemoreceptor that controls motility in E. coli. Like other receptors, Tsr spans the cell membrane, communicating to proteins inside the cell in order to respond to threats or opportunities in the environment.

The results, published in Nature Communications, stand apart from previous research because of the computational power applied to the problem.

“This work exemplifies the growing importance of numerical experiments in biology,” said Jerome Baudry, assistant professor in the UT Biochemistry and Cellular and Molecular Biology Department and the UT–ORNL Center for Molecular Biophysics.

The team led by Baudry and Igor Zhulin, distinguished research and development staff member in the ORNL Computer Science and Mathematics Division, joint professor in the UT Department of Microbiology, and JICS joint faculty member determined that a single pair of phenylalanine amino acids called Phe396 located at the chemoreceptor tip was acting as a receptor switch.

“For decades proteins have been viewed as static molecules, and almost everything we know about them comes from static images, such as those produced with X-ray crystallography,” Zhulin said. “But signaling is a dynamic process, which is difficult to fully understand using only snapshots.”

The Phe396 pair is restless, always flipping 180 degrees back and forth relative to the receptor, but researchers identified a clear pattern.

“It is like a crazy light switch,” Zhulin said. “When you switch it on to light up your room, it occasionally flips down giving you moments of darkness, and when you switch it off to go to sleep, it occasionally goes up flashing.”

When the receptor is in signal-on mode, the switch spends more time in the “on” position. When the receptor is in signal-off mode, the switch spends more time in the “off” position.

“To our knowledge, this is the first time this switch has been described,” said Davi Ortega, lead author and postdoctoral fellow in Zhulin’s lab.

The team, including collaborators at the University of Utah led by John Parkinson, compared thousands of chemoreceptor sequences from all microbial genomes in the Microbial Signal Transduction database available as of August 2012. Remarkably, the Phe396 amino acid was present in all of them, indicating it is likely the switch has existed throughout more than 2 billion years of microbial evolution.

Phenylalanine pairs capable of forming a molecular switch are also present in many other signaling proteins, including receptors in human cells, making it an attractive target for drug design and biotechnology applications.

However, using Anton, researchers were able to simulate only a small part of the chemoreceptor containing the Phe396 pair known as a dimer, meaning two identical molecules. But these two molecules do not work alone.

Dimers are grouped in threes to form larger units of the signaling complex, called trimers of dimers. Researchers expect simulating a trimer next will reveal more about how the Phe396-mediated signal is amplified across neighboring proteins.

But a trimer simulation requires modeling almost 400,000 atoms with increasingly complex physics calculations as the system gets larger. To do so, the group needs a lot of computational capacity.

“Anton is an exceptional machine, but its hardware limitations won’t permit the simulation of such a large system,” Ortega said. “We need Titan.”

Using Titan they ran a preliminary simulation to determine that they would need millions of processing hours on this petaflop machine capable of quadrillions of calculations per second. Titan’s GPUs are highly parallel, hurtling through repetitive calculations such as those modeling the large system of atoms under a vast array of configurations in the trimer simulation.

“With Titan we will begin to see how the signal propagates across chemoreceptors,” Zhulin said. “We think this will start to explain how signals are amplified by these remarkable molecular machines.”

ORNL is managed by UT-Battelle for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science. DOE’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit http://science.energy.gov.

Katie Jones | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.ornl.gov
http://www.ornl.gov/ornl/news/news-releases/2013/supercomputers-help-ornl-researchers-identify-key-molecular-switch-that-controls-cell-

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht New procedure enables cultivation of human brain sections in the petri dish
19.10.2017 | Hertie-Institut für klinische Hirnforschung (HIH)

nachricht The “everywhere” protein: honour for the unravellor of its biology
19.10.2017 | Boehringer Ingelheim Stiftung

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Neutron star merger directly observed for the first time

University of Maryland researchers contribute to historic detection of gravitational waves and light created by event

On August 17, 2017, at 12:41:04 UTC, scientists made the first direct observation of a merger between two neutron stars--the dense, collapsed cores that remain...

Im Focus: Breaking: the first light from two neutron stars merging

Seven new papers describe the first-ever detection of light from a gravitational wave source. The event, caused by two neutron stars colliding and merging together, was dubbed GW170817 because it sent ripples through space-time that reached Earth on 2017 August 17. Around the world, hundreds of excited astronomers mobilized quickly and were able to observe the event using numerous telescopes, providing a wealth of new data.

Previous detections of gravitational waves have all involved the merger of two black holes, a feat that won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics earlier this month....

Im Focus: Smart sensors for efficient processes

Material defects in end products can quickly result in failures in many areas of industry, and have a massive impact on the safe use of their products. This is why, in the field of quality assurance, intelligent, nondestructive sensor systems play a key role. They allow testing components and parts in a rapid and cost-efficient manner without destroying the actual product or changing its surface. Experts from the Fraunhofer IZFP in Saarbrücken will be presenting two exhibits at the Blechexpo in Stuttgart from 7–10 November 2017 that allow fast, reliable, and automated characterization of materials and detection of defects (Hall 5, Booth 5306).

When quality testing uses time-consuming destructive test methods, it can result in enormous costs due to damaging or destroying the products. And given that...

Im Focus: Cold molecules on collision course

Using a new cooling technique MPQ scientists succeed at observing collisions in a dense beam of cold and slow dipolar molecules.

How do chemical reactions proceed at extremely low temperatures? The answer requires the investigation of molecular samples that are cold, dense, and slow at...

Im Focus: Shrinking the proton again!

Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, using high precision laser spectroscopy of atomic hydrogen, confirm the surprisingly small value of the proton radius determined from muonic hydrogen.

It was one of the breakthroughs of the year 2010: Laser spectroscopy of muonic hydrogen resulted in a value for the proton charge radius that was significantly...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ASEAN Member States discuss the future role of renewable energy

17.10.2017 | Event News

World Health Summit 2017: International experts set the course for the future of Global Health

10.10.2017 | Event News

Climate Engineering Conference 2017 Opens in Berlin

10.10.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Osaka university researchers make the slipperiest surfaces adhesive

18.10.2017 | Materials Sciences

Space radiation won't stop NASA's human exploration

18.10.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Los Alamos researchers and supercomputers help interpret the latest LIGO findings

18.10.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>