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Structural Biology

In basic research in human health and disease, structural biology has a key and central role.  Beautiful pictures of the structures of proteins, DNA, and RNA appear frequently on the covers and in the pages of the most prestigious scientific journals.  Why?

Most biomedical research depends on understanding how organisms work at the molecular level.  Each of the 30,000 proteins in the human body has a unique sequence of amino acids and three-dimensional structure.  Discovering these structures enables a precise understanding of how mutations cause inherited disease, viruses enter and infect cells, bacteria produce toxins and become resistant to antibiotics, cancer cells grow and metastasize, drugs bind to and inhibit receptors and enzymes, the immune system recognizes foreignness, nerves sense and transmit information, and amyloid plaques form in Alzheimer’s disease.  Just as a picture is worth a thousand words, the structure of a biomolecule conveys a huge amount of information about how it does its job in the body. Scientific papers reporting structures have a long-lasting impact, because the structure; i.e. the blue-print showing the location of all the atoms of which the molecule is built, is deposited in a database that all scientists can access.  This permanent record of the molecule can be used to determine how it works in health, is damaged by mutations, is attacked by infectious organisms, and can be targeted by drugs.  

PCMM Scientists studying structural biology

Sun Hur, PhD
Sun Hur 
Tomas Kirchhausen, PhD   
Tom Kirchhausen 

Tim Springer

Wesley Wong
Hao Wu

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