The main benefit of using neutrons to study biological systems is that they can generally possible to make one component of the system ‘disappear’ from the measurement. This makes it possible to focus on a specific aspect of a complex system, a real advantage in complex biological systems. Neutrons interact with the nucleus of atoms which means they have a different response to different isotopes. The most important case for biological experiments is the difference in scattering for hydrogen and deuterium.
The main current applications of neutron scattering to biological systems are in studying the structure of complexes in solution and membrane systems. Small angle neutron scattering (SANS) provides information on the size and shape of macromolecular complexes and is used to study multi-protein complexes. Reflection techniques are a powerful way of investigating structure at surfaces. It is possible, for instance, to investigate the association of a protein with model membranes, identifying penetration depth and other structural parameters.
Other instruments provide information on the dynamics of bio-macromolecules, or the structure of solvent around molecules, as well as atomic resolution structure of small molecules through crystallography and powder diffraction. Browse our bioscience highlight articles below: