Friday, April 16, 2010

What Is the Shape of the Molecule?

Last night we had another great "Born to Do Science" at the library! Dr. Christina Bourne was our guest scientist from the OSU Vet Med department.

Unfortunately, the batteries in our camera died not far into the program, so I only have two photos to share, and neither of them is of our scientist!

Here I am sharing the brand new song, "What Is the Shape of the Molecule?"

Here we are demonstrating some background information about how proteins and inhibitors work. The kid volunteer is our "protein." She is a large molecule that has a job to do inside a bacteria. This protein's job is to combine the blue and green molecules together to make a new substance. The new substance is something the bacteria needs to survive. But we don't want the bacteria to survive! So we try to stop it doing its job with an "inhibitor" molecule. That's something that sticks to the protein and gets in the way. Those big gloves are a trial inhibitor. They stuck to the protein but didn't stop it from doing its job, as you can see. So then we tried oven mitts. The oven mitt inhibitors worked, but not perfectly well. They slowed the protein down quite a bit, but she was still able to catalyze her chemical reaction (I mean, put the green and blue blocks together).

Dr. Bourne's work is a lot like this demonstration. She searches through thousands of possible inhibitors to find ones that will stop a particular protein from doing its job. The protein she's working with comes from an anthrax bacterium. That's right - some day her work may lead to a new medicine that can cure anthrax!

Dr. Bourne uses x-ray crystallography to find out what her protein looks like. This helps her shape the inhibitor molecule just right so it'll stick to the protein and keep it from working. Here is a representation of her protein, in blue. The yellow bit in the middle is the inhibitor molecule, which Dr. Bourne has tweaked so that it fits just right and keeps that protein from functioning.
Our next program:

May 20, 2010

The Older the Rock, the Brighter It Glows

Using Luminescence Dating to Determine the Ages of Rocks

Dr. Regina DeWitt from the OSU Physics Department will speak about a dating technique she has developed based on the natural ability rocks accumulate over time to luminesce. Dr. Dewitt's work is funded by NASA and her luminescence dating instrument may be selected for inclusion on a future Mars rover!

See you there!