Modern structural biology is a combination of biophysics, molecular biology, and biochemistry that aims to better understand the function and control of biological macromolecules through analysis of their molecular structure. For example, the atomic details gleaned from these three-dimensional structures is invaluable in understanding how enzymes recognize substrates and catalyze reactions, how proteins interact with each other, what kinds of structural changes occur as protein assemblies perform their functions, and how various proteins are regulated by metabolites. At the Danforth Center, the two major techniques employed are x-ray crystallography and cryo-electron microscopy and image reconstructions. With x-ray crystallography, the proteins are crystallized and their atomic structures are determined using x-ray diffraction methods. With cryo-electron microscopy, samples are flash frozen and three-dimensional images are created from thousands of individual, two-dimensional images of the macromolecular assemblies. Finally, the atomic structures from crystallography can be used to interpret extremely large complexes studied by electron microscopy.
Labs conducting research in this area include: