A technology for monitoring protein growth -- developed in part through NASA Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) funding from Marshall Space Flight Center -- is noninvasive, nondestructive, rapid, and more cost effective than x-ray analysis. The partner for this SBIR, Photon-X, Inc. (Huntsville, AL), developed spatial-phase imaging technology that can monitor crystal growth in real time and in an automated mode.

Spatial-phase imaging involves the use of proprietary filters. The operator uses a single camera to acquire a series of spatial-phase images of a specimen. Next, the image data is digitally processed using algorithms that extract information on the 3D properties of the protein crystal of interest. This can be processed further to extract information about the symmetry of the crystal and to detect flaws. This method should accelerate the search for conditions to optimize the growth of proteins and be a means of automating the growth of high-quality protein crystals.

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