Macromolecular Structure and Mechanisms



What makes life “work?” Simply put, biology depends on interactions between different kinds of molecules. Biochemical, genetic and functional studies can be used to discover and characterize chemical and physical processes in living cells and to identify the molecules involved. However, a complete understanding of how these processes take place requires structural information, an understanding of the three-dimensional organization of biological molecules.

Over the last 50-70 years, techniques like X-ray crystallography and NMR have provided atomic-resolution information about the structure of many cellular components, like proteins, lipids, nucleic acids and metabolites. Low-resolution structural information about large cellular structures (organelles) has come from traditional electron microscopy. However, until recently, it had been hard to obtain structural information about the large macromolecular complexes that carry out many essential cellular processes (transcription, translation, DNA replication and chromatin regulation are just a few examples).

In the last few years, two new techniques, single particle cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) and cryo-electron tomography (cryo-ET) have emerged as powerful alternatives that can provide atomic or near-atomic resolution information about macromolecular complexes, their interactions, and their organization inside a cell. Structural biologists now count with a powerful set of approaches to take a detailed view at every level of biological organization, from small molecules to entire cells. Combining this structural understanding with information from biochemical and functional analyses provides an opportunity to dissect the mechanisms behind normal and pathological cellular states, opening the door to a deeper understanding of cellular biology and providing the basis for development of novel therapies to improve human health.

macromolecular structure 1 macromolecular structure 2

Faculty with Research in this Area


Francisco Asturias -- 500 x 600

Francisco Asturias, PhD

Characterization large macromolecular complexes

Elan Eisenmesser -- 500 x 600

Elan Eisenmesser, PhD

Viral protein/host protein interactions and enzyme motions

Kirk Hansen -- 500 x 600

Kirk Hansen, PhD

Quantitative and functional proteomics, extracellular matrix processing and organization

Jay Hesselberth -- 500 x 600

Jay Hesselberth, PhD

Nucleic acid repair

Aaron Johnson -- 500 x 600

Aaron Johnson, PhD

Mechanisms of chromatin-mediated gene silencing

Jeff Kieft -- 500 x 600

Jeffrey Kieft, PhD

Complex RNA structure and how RNA controls diverse biological processes

Catherine Musselman -- 500 x 600

Catherine Musselman, PhD

Structural mechanisms of chromatin signaling

David Pollock -- 500 x 600

David Pollock, PhD

Protein structure, function and sequence evolution

Beat Vogeli -- 500 x 600

Beat Vögeli, PhD

NMR spectroscopy for the elucidation of conformation and communication networks within and between proteins and nucleic acids

Rui Zhao -- 500 x 600

Rui Zhao, PhD

Molecular mechanism of pre-mRNA splicing; drug design targeting transcriptional complex in breast cancer

Hongjin Zheng -- 500 x 600

Hongjin Zheng, PhD

Structural biology of membrane proteins and protein complexes