Scientists have identified a weak spot in the parasite that causes African sleeping sickness. The results, reported Nov. 29 in Science Express, are already being enlisted in the effort to combat the disease, which is transmitted by tsetse flies infected with the single-celled parasite. The study also marks a milestone in using X-ray lasers, such as SLAC's Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS), to determine the structures of biological molecules that are important for human health.
"This is the first new biological structure solved with a free-electron laser," said Henry Chapman of the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg, Germany, one of the leaders of the research team.
Lars Redecke, another team leader, said, "This is really a landmark in structural biology, and a significant step toward developing a new drug." Redecke is a structural biologist at the Joint Laboratory for Structural Biology of Infection and Inflammation of Hamburg and Lübeck universities in Germany.