One-Of-A-Kind Imaging Probe Reveals Secrets Useful For Drug Discovery

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Good things may indeed come in small packages for scientists eager to find natural substances to help cure diseases. The challenge is to analyze material that is smaller than the proverbial gnat's eyelash.

But using a refined version of nuclear magnetic resonance technology, or NMR, scientists have unlocked secrets hidden in tiny amounts of venom taken from spindly insects called common two-stripe walking sticks, which are relatively harmless, plant-eating creatures common in the eastern United States.

The analytical technique, described in the current issue of ACS Chemical Biology by scientists at the McKnight Brain Institute of the University of Florida and the Center for Medical, Agricultural and Veterinary Entomology at the Gainesville U.S. Department of Agriculture, could aid in the search for natural substances to make medicines. It also shows that scientists can obtain volumes of information from very tiny samples, which could be useful in efforts to understand Alzheimer's disease and other disorders.

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"There are many potent, useful molecules made by plants and animals, but they are usually produced in such small quantities it takes a huge amount of material to characterize them," said Arthur Edison, an associate professor of biochemistry and molecular biology. "In this case, it previously required hundreds of milkings to get enough walking stick venom for analysis. We were able to get great data from just one milking."

Researchers at the McKnight Brain Institute's Advanced Magnetic Resonance Imaging and Spectroscopy equipped an NMR spectrometer with a special probe to examine the venom, which the walking stick sprays to defend itself from predators.

Similar to the magnetic resonance imagers used to examine patients in hospitals, this analytical tool uses much stronger magnetic fields to study smaller samples, allowing scientists to study molecules atom by atom.

But what made this particular method unique is not the extreme power of the magnet, which at 600 megahertz is fairly standard, but the extreme sensitivity of the probe

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