Time-resolved crystallography using X-ray free-electron laser

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Description

Photosystem II (PSII) is a large protein-cofactor complex. The first step in

photosynthesis involves the harvesting of light energy from the sun by the antenna (made

of pigments) of the PSII trans-membrane

Photosystem II (PSII) is a large protein-cofactor complex. The first step in

photosynthesis involves the harvesting of light energy from the sun by the antenna (made

of pigments) of the PSII trans-membrane complex. The harvested excitation energy is

transferred from the antenna complex to the reaction center of the PSII, which leads to a

light-driven charge separation event, from water to plastoquinone. This phenomenal

process has been producing the oxygen that maintains the oxygenic environment of our

planet for the past 2.5 billion years.

The oxygen molecule formation involves the light-driven extraction of 4 electrons

and protons from two water molecules through a multistep reaction, in which the Oxygen

Evolving Center (OEC) of PSII cycles through 5 different oxidation states, S0 to S4.

Unraveling the water-splitting mechanism remains as a grant challenge in the field of

photosynthesis research. This requires the development of an entirely new capability, the

ability to produce molecular movies. This dissertation advances a novel technique, Serial

Femtosecond X-ray crystallography (SFX), into a new realm whereby such time-resolved

molecular movies may be attained. The ultimate goal is to make a “molecular movie” that

reveals the dynamics of the water splitting mechanism using time-resolved SFX (TRSFX)

experiments and the uniquely enabling features of X-ray Free-Electron Laser

(XFEL) for the study of biological processes.

This thesis presents the development of SFX techniques, including development of

new methods to analyze millions of diffraction patterns (~100 terabytes of data per XFEL

experiment) with the goal of solving the X-ray structures in different transition states.

ii

The research comprises significant advancements to XFEL software packages (e.g.,

Cheetah and CrystFEL). Initially these programs could evaluate only 8-10% of all the

data acquired successfully. This research demonstrates that with manual optimizations,

the evaluation success rate was enhanced to 40-50%. These improvements have enabled

TR-SFX, for the first time, to examine the double excited state (S3) of PSII at 5.5-Å. This

breakthrough demonstrated the first indication of conformational changes between the

ground (S1) and the double-excited (S3) states, a result fully consistent with theoretical

predictions.

The power of the TR-SFX technique was further demonstrated with proof-of principle

experiments on Photoactive Yellow Protein (PYP) micro-crystals that high

temporal (10-ns) and spatial (1.5-Å) resolution structures could be achieved.

In summary, this dissertation research heralds the development of the TR-SFX

technique, protocols, and associated data analysis methods that will usher into practice a

new era in structural biology for the recording of ‘molecular movies’ of any biomolecular

process.