The structure of biological molecules can tell us a lot about their function. For example, the double-helical base-paired structure of DNA has obvious implications for the way genetic material is copied, suggesting that one strand is capable of providing a template on which to rebuild the entire molecule. More recently, scientists have used the structure of disease-related molecules to develop more potent drugs to target pathogens such as HIV, and inhibit cellular processes implicated in the disease state.
Because biological molecules are much smaller than the eye can see, we must rely on advanced biomedical technologies and techniques, including X-ray crystallography, electron microscopy, mass spectrometry, and nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), to gather data and create structural models. Structural biologists, therefore, often share technological expertise, even when the biological subjects they are investigating are far-ranging. The Intramural Research Program (IRP) is home to a strong community of researchers whose interests converge on structural biology. Individual research projects include:
- The application of atomic-level information to the design of HIV vaccines
- Studying the molecular basis of natural killer (NK) cell activation in innate immune responses
- Determining the three-dimensional structures and macromolecular interactions of molecules that allow the malaria parasite to invade host cells
- Discovering the principles of protein and chromatin folding
- Laying a groundwork of structure-function relationships to develop novel therapies for diseases involving neuronal differentiation and survival
- Understanding the interactions between proteins and membranes and how certain pathogens subvert them
- Studying how genetic information in the form of discrete pieces of DNA move from one place to another, such as during viral DNA integration
- Elucidating the biological processes that modulate the effects of environmental exposures on human health
To learn more about IRP research related to structural biology, please visit the Structural Biology Interest Group’s Web page.