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    • 2020-03-23 08:05:07
    • Article ID: 728269

    Science Snapshots from Berkeley Lab

    A natural mosquito-killing toxin, fast-charging batteries, and artificial antibodies

    • Credit: Nicholas Sauter/Berkeley Lab and Napat/Shutterstock

      The 3D structure of the activated toxin seen in two views (rotated 180 degrees), overlaid on an image of mosquito larvae.

    • Credit: Brookhaven National Laboratory

      A movie of lithium ions quickly moving along "easy pathways" in intermediate configurations of LTO (lithium titanate).

    • Credit: Ryan Spencer and Ron Zuckermann/Berkeley Lab

      Computer simulation of an anthrax PA63 protein binding to loopoids (purple). The base nanosheet is shown in green.

    X-ray Imaging Reveals Insights into a Natural Mosquito-Killing Compound

    Study of a mosquito-targeting toxin produced by bacteria could lead to safer and more effective anti-mosquito products

    -By Aliyah Kovner

    Many of the chemicals used to deter or eliminate disease-carrying mosquitoes can pollute ecosystems and drive the evolution of even more problematic, insecticide-resistant species – but thankfully, we may have better options soon. 

    Scientists previously discovered that a strain of naturally occurring bacteria called Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis (Bti) produces several compounds that kill mosquito larvae, yet are harmless to most other organisms. These compounds exist in crystal form inside the bacteria, and when the microbes are eaten by a larva, the high pH and digestive enzymes in their gut cause the crystals to dissolve and rearrange into molecules that perforate the larva’s gut cell membranes, quickly killing the insect.

    Now, new research led by Grenoble Alpes University and published in Nature Communications has revealed the atomic structure of the most potent Bti crystal and helped explain the mechanism by which the transformed toxin slices through mosquito cell membranes. 

    “These results help to explain differences in toxicity even by changing a single atom. This opens the door to the rational design of toxins that are safe and effective, for controlling specific mosquito species or disease targets,” said Nicholas Sauter, a senior scientist in Berkeley Lab’s Molecular Biophysics and Integrated Bioimaging (MBIB) Division and one of the paper’s authors. 

    Sauter and two other MBIB co-authors used their computing expertise to process the structural data collected by the method of X-ray crystallography, which was performed at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory’s Linear Coherent Light Source (LCLS). “X-ray laser light sources like the LCLS are the only technology capable of generating beams focused enough to probe the tiny Bti crystals,” added Sauter. “Gathering and then interpreting this complex data involved researchers from 10 institutions – it is a great example of a ‘big science’ collaboration.”

    One Step Closer to a Fast-Charging Battery

    In collaboration with Brookhaven National Lab, Berkeley Lab researchers were able to visualize a key feature of lithium titanate

    -By Julie Chao

    Berkeley Lab researchers, working with a team at Brookhaven National Laboratory, have made a key discovery about the dynamic structural changes in a material called lithium titanate, putting scientists one step closer to achieving a fast-charging lithium battery.

    The scientists used both experimental and computational techniques to examine lithium titanate, or LTO, while it was undergoing fast charge and were able to see why lithium ions are able to move so fast. Their findings were published recently in the journal Science

    “We were able to visualize a key feature of the structure of LTO,” said Tina Chen, a UC Berkeley graduate student and Berkeley Lab researcher who worked with Berkeley Lab scientist Gerbrand Ceder on the study. “We believe that if we can find materials that can accommodate this feature when they’re cycling, then they may also be good candidates to have high rate capability. LTO would serve as the anode in a battery, but we also want to find better materials for the cathode, and potentially we could apply this to solid electrolytes with higher lithium mobility.” 

    Lithium-ion batteries, such as those used in cell phones and electric vehicles, can take hours to charge. “There are a lot of materials that if you try to charge your battery too quickly then the capacity will drastically decrease,” Chen said. “The goal is to be able to charge your battery very quickly and still maintain a high capacity.”

    Click here for a news release from Brookhaven National Laboratory on this study. 

    New Library of Artificial Antibodies Could Target Pathogens With Molecular Precision  

    Berkeley Lab technique could accelerate the design of affordable antibodies for biomedical applications

    -By Theresa Duque 

    A research team led by Berkeley Lab has developed a technique that could accelerate the design of artificial antibodies for biomedical applications – from sensing technologies that detect and neutralize infectious viruses and bacteria, to the early detection of Alzheimer’s.

    Unfortunately, antibodies are expensive to manufacture and challenging to store. Now, as reported in the journal ACS Nano, scientists at Berkeley Lab have designed artificial antibodies that rival the chemical diversity of their natural counterparts, but without their fragility, nor the expense.

    Ron Zuckermann of Berkeley Lab’s Molecular Foundry and his co-authors engineered a family of protein-like molecules called peptoids to fold into a nanosheet coated with peptoid loops – what the researchers call “loopoids.” While the peptoids direct the formation of the nanosheet, the loopoids create libraries of chemically diverse 2D surfaces that can be tested for biological activity, Zuckermann explained.

    The density of loops on the nanosheet offers multiple sites that can simultaneously attach to pathogens, boosting their binding strength. Because of their high surface area, a single nanosheet can bind thousands upon thousands of target proteins, and can even grab onto much larger biological targets like bacterial cells.

    While testing the technique, the researchers identified a peptoid nanosheet that selectively binds to a key protein involved in the interaction between the anthrax pathogen and its host cell.

    “We can now readily build populations of rugged synthetic materials that can be engineered to recognize a potential pathogen,” said Zuckermann. “It is a shining example of biomimetic nanoscience.”

    Researchers from UC San Francisco, New York University, and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory also participated in the work.

    Read more at the Molecular Foundry website.

     

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    Argonne researchers create active material out of microscopic spinning particles

    Argonne researchers create active material out of microscopic spinning particles

    Argonne researchers have created a new kind of self-healing active material out of "microspinners," which self-assemble under a magnetic field to form a lattice.

    Global Environmental Changes Leading to Shorter, Younger Trees

    Global Environmental Changes Leading to Shorter, Younger Trees

    Ongoing environmental changes are transforming forests worldwide, resulting in shorter and younger trees. Researchers found that a range of factors, including rising temperatures and carbon dioxide levels, have caused a dramatic decrease in the age and stature of forests.

    Researchers use ALCF resources to model the spread of COVID-19

    Researchers use ALCF resources to model the spread of COVID-19

    Argonne researchers lead highly detailed COVID-19 modeling efforts to understand how the virus spreads through populations.

    Return of the Blob: Scientists find surprising link to troublesome turbulence at the edge of fusion plasmas

    Return of the Blob: Scientists find surprising link to troublesome turbulence at the edge of fusion plasmas

    Correlation discovered between magnetic turbulence in fusion plasmas and troublesome blobs at the plasma edge.

    Novel insight reveals topological tangle in unexpected corner of the universe

    Novel insight reveals topological tangle in unexpected corner of the universe

    In a recent theoretical study, scientists discovered the presence of the Hopfion topological structure in nano-sized particles of ferroelectrics -- materials with promising applications in microelectronics and information technology.

    New insights into the dynamic edge of fusion plasmas could help capture the power that drives the sun and stars

    New insights into the dynamic edge of fusion plasmas could help capture the power that drives the sun and stars

    Unique PPPL simulations reveal new understanding of the highly complex edge of fusion plasmas.

    Researchers capture the coordinated dance between electrons and nuclei in a light-excited molecule

    Researchers capture the coordinated dance between electrons and nuclei in a light-excited molecule

    Using SLAC's high-speed "electron camera," scientists simultaneously captured the movements of electrons and nuclei in a light-excited molecule. This marks the first time this has been done with ultrafast electron diffraction, which scatters a powerful beam of electrons off materials to pick up tiny molecular motions.

    Untangling a key step in photosynthetic oxygen production

    Untangling a key step in photosynthetic oxygen production

    Researchers zeroed in on a key step in photosynthesis in which a water molecule moves in to bridge manganese and calcium atoms in the catalytic complex that splits water to produce breathable oxygen. What they learned brings them one step closer to obtaining a complete picture of this natural process, which could inform the next generation of artificial photosynthetic systems that produce clean and renewable energy from sunlight and water. Their results were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences today.

    Platinum-free catalysts could make cheaper hydrogen fuel cells

    Platinum-free catalysts could make cheaper hydrogen fuel cells

    Argonne scientists studied platinum-free catalysts for important fuel cell reactions. The research provides understanding of the mechanisms that make the catalysts effective, and it could inform production of more efficient and cost-effective catalysts.

    Electrons Break Rotational Symmetry in Exotic Low-Temp Superconductor

    Electrons Break Rotational Symmetry in Exotic Low-Temp Superconductor

    This odd behavior may promote the material's ability upon cooling to perfectly conduct electricity in a way unexplained by standard theories.


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    Lehigh University graduate student wins DOE award to conduct thesis research at PPPL

    Lehigh University graduate student wins DOE award to conduct thesis research at PPPL

    Article profiles Vincent Graber, his research interests and thesis plans.

    Lograsso named Critical Materials Institute Director

    Lograsso named Critical Materials Institute Director

    Dr. Thomas Lograsso has been named director of the U.S. Department of Energy's Critical Materials Institute (CMI) at Ames Laboratory.

    Renowned scientist to head new research for plasma applications in industry and quantum information science

    Renowned scientist to head new research for plasma applications in industry and quantum information science

    The Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory has appointed David Graves, an internationally known chemical engineer, to head a new research enterprise that will explore plasma applications in semiconductor manufacturing and the next generation of super-fast quantum computers.

    Argonne physicist Giulia Galli earns two top honors for outstanding research and leadership

    Argonne physicist Giulia Galli earns two top honors for outstanding research and leadership

    Galli elected to both the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences.

    Brookhaven Biochemist Receives Prestigious Award for Plant Lipid Research

    Brookhaven Biochemist Receives Prestigious Award for Plant Lipid Research

    Jantana Keereetaweep, a biochemistry research associate in the biology department at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory, has been awarded the Paul K. Stumpf Award for her research on plant lipids (fats and oils). The award, given every two years, recognizes the contributions of a promising early-career scientist in honor of Stumpf, who was a world leader and pioneer in the study of plant lipid biochemistry.

    ORNL's Brian Post named SME Young Engineer of the Year

    ORNL's Brian Post named SME Young Engineer of the Year

    Brian Post, a researcher in large-scale additive manufacturing at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, has been selected as a recipient of the 2020 Outstanding Young Manufacturing Engineer Award by the Society of Mechanical Engineers (SME).

    Fourth cohort of 6 innovators selected for Chain Reaction Innovations program

    Fourth cohort of 6 innovators selected for Chain Reaction Innovations program

    Six new innovators will be joining Chain Reaction Innovations (CRI), the entrepreneurship program at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory, as part of the elite program's fourth cohort.

    Graduate student at PPPL Ian Ochs wins top Princeton University fellowship

    Graduate student at PPPL Ian Ochs wins top Princeton University fellowship

    Graduate student in plasma physics at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory has won a highly selective honorific fellowship from Princeton University.

    U.S. Department of Energy's INCITE program seeks proposals for 2021

    U.S. Department of Energy's INCITE program seeks proposals for 2021

    The INCITE program is now seeking proposals for high-impact, computationally intensive research projects that require the power and scale of DOE's leadership-class supercomputers.

    Argonne's Paul Dickman honored with nuclear waste management achievement award

    Argonne's Paul Dickman honored with nuclear waste management achievement award

    Paul Dickman has been named a Waste Management Symposium Fellow for 2020.


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    Harvesting Energy from Light using Bio-inspired Artificial Cells

    Harvesting Energy from Light using Bio-inspired Artificial Cells

    Scientists designed and connected two different artificial cells to each other to produce molecules called ATP (adenosine triphosphate).

    Engineering Living Scaffolds for Building Materials

    Engineering Living Scaffolds for Building Materials

    Bone and mollusk shells are composite systems that combine living cells and inorganic components. This allows them to regenerate and change structure while also being very strong and durable. Borrowing from this amazing complexity, researchers have been exploring a new class of materials called engineered living materials (ELMs).

    Excavating Quantum Information Buried in Noise

    Excavating Quantum Information Buried in Noise

    Researchers developed two new methods to assess and remove error in how scientists measure quantum systems. By reducing quantum "noise" - uncertainty inherent to quantum processes - these new methods improve accuracy and precision.

    How Electrons Move in a Catastrophe

    How Electrons Move in a Catastrophe

    Lanthanum strontium manganite (LSMO) is a widely applicable material, from magnetic tunnel junctions to solid oxide fuel cells. However, when it gets thin, its behavior changes for the worse. The reason why was not known. Now, using two theoretical methods, a team determined what happens.

    When Ions and Molecules Cluster

    When Ions and Molecules Cluster

    How an ion behaves when isolated within an analytical instrument can differ from how it behaves in the environment. Now, Xue-Bin Wang at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory devised a way to bring ions and molecules together in clusters to better discover their properties and predict their behavior.

    Tune in to Tetrahedral Superstructures

    Tune in to Tetrahedral Superstructures

    Shape affects how the particles fit together and, in turn, the resulting material. For the first time, a team observed the self-assembly of nanoparticles with tetrahedral shapes.

    Tracing Interstellar Dust Back to the Solar System's Formation

    Tracing Interstellar Dust Back to the Solar System's Formation

    This study is the first to confirm dust particles pre-dating the formation of our solar system. Further study of these materials will enable a deeper understanding of the processes that formed and have since altered them.

    Investigating Materials that Can Go the Distance in Fusion Reactors

    Investigating Materials that Can Go the Distance in Fusion Reactors

    Future fusion reactors will require materials that can withstand extreme operating conditions, including being bombarded by high-energy neutrons at high temperatures. Scientists recently irradiated titanium diboride (TiB2) in the High Flux Isotope Reactor (HFIR) to better understand the effects of fusion neutrons on performance.

    Better 3-D Imaging of Tumors in the Breast with Less Radiation

    Better 3-D Imaging of Tumors in the Breast with Less Radiation

    In breast cancer screening, an imaging technique based on nuclear medicine is currently being used as a successful secondary screening tool alongside mammography to improve the accuracy of the diagnosis. Now, a team is hoping to improve this imaging technique.

    Microbes are Metabolic Specialists

    Microbes are Metabolic Specialists

    Scientists can use genetic information to measure if microbes in the environment can perform specific ecological roles. Researchers recently analyzed the genomes of over 6,000 microbial species.


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