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Apr 03, 2017 10:28 AM EDT

International Space Station crew members conducted research on how to improve the growth of crystals on Earth. The data is intended to improve the drug development process for humans all over the world.

These crystals are proteins that play an important role in the human body. They help the body regulate, repair and protect itself. Since they are too small to be studied under a microscope, they are crystallized to determine their 3D structures.

The structures reveal to researchers how a certain protein functions as well as its involvement in the development of disease. Once a model has been created, drug developers can use the structure to develop a drug that can safely interact with the protein. This process is called the structure-based drug design.

Phys.org reported that the ISS crew conducted two investigations: The Effect of Macromolecular Transport on Microgravity Protein Crystallization (LMM Biophysics 1) and Growth Rate Dispersion as a Predictive Indicator for Biological Crystal Samples Where Quality Can be Improved with Microgravity Growth (LMM Biophysics 3). They studied the formation of the crystals with regard to how microgravity-grown crystals usually have a higher-quality than Earth-grown ones as well as which types of crystals benefit most from being grown in space.

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The first study will investigate whether the cause of high-quality in crystals is because they grow slower in microgravity due to a lack of buoyancy-induced convection or whether a higher level of purification can be achieved in microgravity. The data results will be gathered from improved X-ray diffraction.

The second study, according to News-Medical.net, will examine which crystals benefit from crystallization in space. It was noted that only some proteins crystallized in space benefit from microgravity growth. The protein's shape and surface that makes up a crystal defines its potential for success in microgravity.

The understanding of how these different proteins crystallize in microgravity can give researchers a better view of how these proteins function. It can also help to determine which crystals ought to be transported to the space station for growth.

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