March 31, 2006

X-ray crystallographer lands research award

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Bin Zhao, Ph.D.

X-ray crystallographer lands research award

Bin Zhao, Ph.D., research instructor in Biochemistry, has received the SER-CAT Outstanding Science Award for 2006.

SER-CAT, the Southeast Regional Collaborative Access Team, provides access to high intensity X-ray beams at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois for a group of 25 member institutions, including Vanderbilt University and Medical Center.

Zhao's publication in The Journal of Biological Chemistry ,describing mechanistic details of cytochrome P450 158A2 action, was selected for the award from more than 300 scientific publications reported by SER-CAT users in 2005.

The report, co-authored by F. Peter Guengerich, Ph.D., Markus Voehler and Michael Waterman, Ph.D., was judged by a panel of scientists outside of the SER-CAT membership “to have the highest scientific impact out of all the papers considered,” wrote John Rose, Ph.D., assistant director of SER-CAT.

Cytochrome P450 enzymes are widespread proteins that participate in the biosynthesis of physiologically important molecules and in drug metabolism.

Zhao and colleagues used X-ray crystallography to examine the structure of a cytochrome P450 — in its active mode — from the soil bacterium Streptomyces coelicolor. The P450 enzyme they studied participates in the biosynthesis of a pigment molecule which protects the bacterium from ultraviolet radiation.

During the enzyme's function, its active iron site gains an electron and then binds molecular oxygen (O2) producing the reduced iron (ferrous)-oxygen complex.

The investigators determined the X-ray structure of this complex, which suggested a new strategy for proton transfer during P450 catalysis. The SER-CAT award was made for this discovery, Waterman said.

Zhao was invited to present his research findings and receive a plaque at the annual SER-CAT symposium held earlier this month at Georgia State University in Atlanta. Zhao and his association with Vanderbilt also will be recorded on the master plaque displayed at Argonne.

Vanderbilt's membership in SER-CAT is part of the Center for Structural Biology (CSB), a major transinstitutional initiative launched in 2000 to significantly upgrade Vanderbilt's capabilities in structural biology. Walter Chazin, Ph.D., directs the CSB.

“The CSB has participated in recruiting key structural biology faculty and in assuring that Vanderbilt investigators have the instrumentation they require for their cutting-edge research involving macromolecular structure,” Waterman said. “One important piece of instrumentation for our X-ray crystallographers is access to a synchrotron beam line providing X-ray beams much stronger than those available on home sources here at Vanderbilt.”

X-ray crystallographers generally produce crystals from proteins or nucleic acids and test the ability of the crystals to diffract X-rays at Vanderbilt. They then travel to Argonne to collect high resolution data sets from which structures are determined.

“It is a real credit to Vanderbilt's strength in structural biology that Dr. Zhao's research was selected for the SER-CAT Outstanding Science Award,” Waterman said.

— Guengerich is professor of Biochemistry and director of the Center in Molecular Toxicology. Voehler is the director of operations for the Biomolecular NMR Facility in the CSB. Waterman is the Natalie Overall Warren Distinguished Professor and Chair of Biochemistry.