Self-Organization of Protein Fibers in Weightlessness

 

Abstract

It is currently hypothesized that the collection of self-aggregating protein chains in the human brain is positively correlated with neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and Dementia. In this study the protein lysozyme was used due to its morphological properties, which are analogous to those of tau and amyloid-B, the proteins associated with neurodegenerative diseases. The purpose of this project was to understand the first steps in the protein fiber aggregation process; therefore reliable methods for protein fiber creation were discovered and used throughout the experiment. Following many tests, the methods were replicated in weightlessness aboard the International Space Station (ISS). The SABOL team at Florida Institute of Technology’s (FIT) Department of Engineering constructed two identical NanoLabs, one was sent to the International Space Station (ISS) and the other remained stationed at the FIT Kennedy Space Center Lab; theoretically the experiments were to run identically in both locations. The resulting solutions from both experiments were imaged using an atomic force microscope (AFM) and the quantitative fiber information was collected and analyzed. Protein fibers grown in weightlessness demonstrated significantly different morphology from samples grown on Earth in the identical Ground Control (GC) system. This research may advance our understanding of the cause and cure of several neurodegenerative diseases.


Poster

This poster created by Caroline Leite and I and was presented in the 2016 Northrop Grumman Engineering and Science Student Design Showcase at the Florida Institute of Technology.


My Contribution to the Project

This project required the collaboration of various departments and generations. I became part of the SABOL team as soon as the Ground Control and the International Space Station experiments had concluded and the samples were retrieved. My job on the team, along with Caroline Leite, was the analysis of the resulting samples. To do this, we first extracted the samples from the vials and mounted them onto mica slides, these slides provide a clean surface that holds the sample due to its dielectric strength. Then we placed the individual slides into the AFM and imaged them at three different magnifications. Once the images were taken, we collected the fiber height, width, shape, and length by measuring the fibers on the images using the Pico Imaging Software. I then preformed a quantitative analysis on the measurements and created histograms of the results, these histograms will be used on the future publication of this research. We are currently working on writing a paper and publishing this research in the NPJ Microgravity journal.


Important Acronyms

AFM - Atomic Force Microscope
CAD - Computer Aided Design
FIT - Florida Institute of Technology
GC - Ground Control
ISS - International Space Station


Introduction

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Laboratory Methods

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Experiment Hardware: The NanoLab

The NanoLab was designed and constructed by the SABOL team at FIT’s Department of Engineering, their expertise made this project possible and successful. A list of names of the specific investigators, collaborators, and graduate students that are part of the SABOL team can be found on the project website, the link is featured at the bottom of this page; unfortunately the page has not been updated and therefore the list is incomplete.

Figure: A computer-aided design (CAD) model of the final configuration of the NanoLab.

Figure: Cross section diagram of the Polypropylene vials used within the NanoLab.

Figure: Final assembly of the NanoLab before being sealed.

Experiment Hardware: The Atomic Force Microscope (AFM)

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Figure: Diagram of the mechanism in which the AFM images a sample.


Experimental Design

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Results

I cannot disclose the official results nor the description of them due to the fact that this research is in the process of being formally published. Some of the results can be observed on the poster above. I apologize for the inconvenience.


Discussion

I cannot disclose the discussion of the experimental results due to the fact that this research is in the process of being formally published. I apologize for the inconvenience.


Bibliography

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*PUBLICATION PENDING