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With New 900 MHz NMR Magnets, Proteins Can Be Bigger Than Ever

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Investigators will soon have more reasons to use NMR spectroscopy to study protein structure. Earlier this month the National Institute for General Medical Sciences provided funds for four academic labs to acquire custom-built 900 MHz magnets — currently the most powerful NMR magnet available. Only six NMR instruments of this size exist worldwide.

The new NMR instruments will go to labs at four lucky institutions: the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the New York Structural Biology Center, the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and the University of Georgia. On average, each institution will receive $4 million to pay for their NMR magnet and instrumentation.

The primary advantage of the 900 MHz magnets is in the increased size range of proteins it can analyze. While typically proteins above 50 kDa contain too many molecules for analysis by NMR spectroscopy, the 900 MHz machines are theoretically capable of determining the structure of proteins in the range of 100 kDa to 150 kDa, said Janna Wehrley, program director in cell biology and biophysics at NIGMS.

Although the 900 MHz magnets are primarily for studying those carefully chosen proteins that require ultra high resolution, John Markley, the lead investigator whose lab at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, will receive the high-powered NMR magnet, said that he would occasionally use the new instrument for studying proteins as part of his participation in the Center for Eurkaryotic Structural Genomics.

“We’ll use the lower field magnets for the most part, but the higher field will allow us to work with larger biomolecular systems, and we’ll resort to that if necessary,” he said.

Markley has ordered his magnet from Oxford Instruments, and the NMR instrumentation from Varian. He expects the instrument to be running by October.

JSM