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The DOE Science News Source is a Newswise initiative to promote research news from the Office of Science of the DOE to the public and news media.
  • 2017-11-13 15:05:10
  • Article ID: 685117

Neutrons Probe Oxygen-Generating Enzyme for a Greener Approach to Clean Water

  • Credit: Journal cover art reprinted with permission from ACS Catalysis, vol. 7, issue 11, November 3, 2017. Further permissions related to the material excerpted should be directed to the American Chemical Society.

    Chlorite dismutase is a unique oxygen-generating enzyme that degrades chlorite, an industrial pollutant found globally in groundwater, drinking water and soils. Research conducted at ORNL contributes to a comprehensive structural and biochemical analysis of the enzyme, paving the way for future environmental applications.

A new study sheds light on a unique enzyme that could provide an eco-friendly treatment for chlorite-contaminated water supplies and improve water quality worldwide.

An international team of researchers led by Christian Obinger from the University of Vienna used neutron analysis at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, x-ray crystallography and other techniques to study the chlorite dismutase enzyme. This naturally occurring protein can break down chlorite, an industrial pollutant found in groundwater, drinking water and soils, into harmless byproductwes, but its catalytic process is not well understood. Understanding how the bacterial enzyme converts chlorite into chloride and oxygen could open possibilities for future applications in bioremediation and biotechnology.

The results, published in ACS Catalysis, also contribute to fundamental research on the enzyme’s ability to produce oxygen. Oxygen generation is incredibly rare in nature, once thought possible only by photosynthesis, so the enzymatic activity of chlorite dismutase has attracted interest from the scientific community beyond its environmental applications for clean water.

Exactly how chlorite dismutase works at a molecular level to break down chlorite has been debated since the enzyme was discovered in 1996. The complexity of the enzyme’s molecular structure and the difficulty of studying proteins with experimental methods present inherent challenges for researchers.

Like most enzymes, chlorite dismutase is a protein that catalyzes a highly specific reaction. The process is often environmentally dependent, meaning it works best within specific parameters, including temperature, concentration and pH ranges. Identifying the ideal parameters for the reaction is key to supporting bioengineering and large-scale production of chlorite dismutase to safely remove chlorite from the environment and potentially exploit the enzyme’s oxygen generation.

The team isolated an unstudied Cyanothece strain of chlorite dismutase and examined the protein’s crystal structure at specific pH values to determine the impact of pH on chlorite conversion.

The researchers used MaNDi, the macromolecular neutron diffractometer, beamline 11-B at the Spallation Neutron Source, a Department of Energy User Facility at ORNL, to collect unique data only obtainable through the use of neutrons.

“Different protein crystals have different degrees of symmetry, which will determine how we go about measuring them. This crystal is unusual in that it has very little symmetry, so an especially large number of reflections have to be recorded individually to get a complete data set,” said Leighton Coates, MaNDi Lead Instrument Scientist. “This would be a challenging and lengthy task anywhere, and it was only achievable in this time frame due to the large area detector coverage of the MaNDi instrument.”

On MaNDi, researchers were able to detect the protonation states of important amino acids thought to support the reaction. “Protonation” refers to a fundamental step in catalysis during which hydrogen attaches to molecules. “This is the important region of the protein, where the chemistry is happening and the chlorite is being broken down,” said Coates.

Protonation states are not easily observed because they involve hydrogen, which is difficult to detect with x-rays or other techniques. In addition, a phenomenon called “photoreduction” occurs when exposing metal-containing enzymes like chlorite dismutase to x-rays, essentially changing the atomic structure of the sample.

Because neutron techniques do not have these limitations, they can give researchers key information that cannot be obtained by other methods. “Neutrons are nondestructive and sensitive to light elements like hydrogen, so they can provide exclusive information about the atomic structure of proteins, which are largely composed of hydrogen molecules,” Coates explained.

“And unlike x-rays that can damage delicate proteins, neutron techniques allow you to collect data at room temperature on an unaltered protein in its active state without the impacts of ionizing radiation and photoreduction,” said Coates. “This experiment really highlights the benefit of using neutrons to study proteins.”

The journal article is published as “Molecular mechanism of enzymatic chlorite detoxification: insights from structural and kinetic studies.” Coauthors include Irene Schaffner, Georg Mlynek, Nicola Flego, Dominic Pühringer, Julian Libiseller-Egger, Leighton Coates, Stefan Hofbauer, Marzia Bellei, Paul G. Furtmüller, Gianantonio Battistuzzi, Giulietta Smulevich, Kristina Djinović-Carugo and Christian Obinger.

The Spallation Neutron Source is a DOE Office of Science User Facility. UT-Battelle manages ORNL for the DOE Office of Science. The single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, the Office of Science is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit—by Ashley Huff

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Out of Thin Air

Argonne researchers conducted basic science computational studies as part of a collaboration with researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago to design a "beyond-lithium-ion" battery cell that operates by running on air over many charge and discharge cycles. The design offers energy storage capacity about three times that of a lithium-ion battery, with significant potential for further improvements.

COSMIC Impact: Next-Gen X-ray Microscopy Platform Now Operational

COSMIC, a next-generation X-ray beamline now operating at Berkeley Lab, brings together a unique set of capabilities to measure the properties of materials at the nanoscale. It allows scientists to probe working batteries and other active chemical reactions, and to reveal new details about magnetism and correlated electronic materials.

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20 Percent of Americans Responsible for Almost Half of US Food-Related Greenhouse Gas Emissions

On any given day, 20 percent of Americans account for nearly half of U.S. diet-related greenhouse gas emissions, and high levels of beef consumption are largely responsible, according to a new study from researchers at the University of Michigan and Tulane University.

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Want to Clean Up the Environment? Make Credit Easier to Get.

Research by Berkeley Haas Prof. Ross Levine, the Willis H. Booth Chair in Banking and Finance, is the first to show that when lending conditions ease, businesses invest more in projects to cut pollution.

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Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Professor Jian Shi Receives Air Force Young Investigator Research Program Award

Jian Shi, assistant professor of materials science and engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, has won a Young Investigator Research Program (YIP) award from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR). Shi will use the three-year, $450,000 grant to pursue fundamental research on nanoscale complex materials that could lead to the development of next-generation resilient and high-performance energy conversion and sensing technologies.

Kerstin Kleese van Dam Receives 32nd Town of Brookhaven Annual Women's Recognition Award for Science

The award recognizes the contributions Kleese van Dam--director of Brookhaven Lab's Computational Science Initiative since 2015--has made to scientific computing and data management over the past three decades.

Jefferson Lab Announces New Accelerator Science Leader

The Department of Energy's Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility has announced that Andrei Seryi will become its new associate director for accelerator operations, research and development in June.

First Plasma for New Machine to Study Puzzling Process That Occurs Throughout the Universe

Announcement describes completion of construction of FLARE, a powerful new machine to study magnetic reconnection.

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Professor Jian Sun Receives Power Electronics Achievement Award

Jian Sun, professor of electrical, computer, and systems engineering and director the New York State Center for Future Energy Systems at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, received the 2017 R. David Middlebrook Outstanding Achievement Award from the IEEE Power Electronics Society (PELS). He was recognized for "contributions to modeling and control of power electronic converters and systems."

FGC Plasma Solutions Wins Top NASA Innovation Award

Argonne Chain Reaction Innovator Felipe Gomez del Campo has received the 2018 NASA iTech award for X-Factor Innovation.

Sandia Researcher Jacqueline Chen Elected to National Academy of Engineering

LIVERMORE, Calif. -- Jacqueline Chen, a distinguished member of the technical staff at Sandia National Laboratories, has been elected to the National Academy of Engineering. Chen is among the 99 new members from around the globe in the 2018 class.Election to the National Academy of Engineering is the highest professional distinction for an engineer in the United States.

PNNL Helps Form International Energy Storage Organization

News Release DALIAN, China -- Energy storage allows power operators across the nation to balance electricity supply and demand instantaneously, affording ratepayers a more resilient power supply.Now the focus on energy storage is global. In January, energy storage experts at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory joined forces with their counterparts around the world to forge the International Coalition for Energy Storage and Innovation, or ICESI.

University Partnership to Help Nevada Scientists Commercialize Discovery

UNLV's Office of Technology Transfer and the Desert Research are partnering to help faculty and students leverage each other's talent and resources to transform inventions into new products and services.

DOE Seeks Industry Partners for HPC Research on Materials in Applied Energy Technologies

The Department of Energy (DOE) today announced a funding opportunity totaling $3 million to support projects between U.S. industry and DOE national laboratories related to improving materials in severe or complex environments through the new High Performance Computing for Materials in Applied Energy Technologies (HPC4Mtls) Program.

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Turning Up the Heat on Remote Research Plots Without Electricity

Flexible, tunable technique warms plants without need for electricity, aiding ecosystem research in remote locales.

Engineering Yeast Tolerance to a Promising Biomass Deconstruction Solvent

Chemical genomic-guided engineering of gamma-valerolactone-tolerant yeast.

Saplings Survive Droughts via Storage

Certain species of trees retain stored water, limit root growth to survive three months without water.

Unlocking On-Package Memory's Effects on High-Performance Computing's Scientific Kernels

Intuitive visual analytical model better explains complex architectural scenarios and offers general design principles.

Data Dive: How Microbes Handle Poor Nutrition in Tropical Soil

High-performance computing reveals the relationship between DNA and phosphorous uptake.

The Secret Lives of Cells

Supercomputer simulations predict how E. coli adapts to environmental stresses.

It's Not Part of the Problem, but Part of the Solution

Americium(III) is selectively and efficiently separated from europium(III) by an extractant in an ionic liquid.

Buckyball Marries Graphene

Electronic and structure richness arise from the merger of semiconducting molecules of carbon buckyballs and 2-D graphene.

Atomic Movies Explain Why Perovskite Solar Cells Are More Efficient

Tracking atoms is crucial to improving the efficiency of next-generation perovskite solar cells.

Catalysts: High Performance Lies on the Edge

Iron may be more valuable than platinum. Sometimes.


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