Structural Biology and Computational Biophysics
Biophysics research at Florida State University includes over 35 research groups. Nine groups, four core facilities and the Molecular Biophysics Graduate Program call the Institute’s Kasha Laboratory their home, while others are located in the associated Departments of Biological Sciences, Biomedical Sciences, Chemical & Biomedical Engineering, Chemistry & Biochemistry, Mathematics and Physics. Researchers work together to solve problems that have direct biomedical applications, such as the design of new therapeutic agents.Biological macromolecules are the focus of the Institute’s research – their form, function, interactions and mechanism of action. Fundamental questions drive our efforts: How is chemical energy converted into motion in the molecular motors of muscle? How are the chemical reactions in our bodies catalyzed by proteins and newly-discovered RNA enzymes?
Basic molecular biophysics and structural biology lies at the heart of these questions and is the focus of much of our efforts: investigations into the folding of proteins, assembly into larger structures, stability and dynamics, characterizing these properties in model systems. Challenging frontier areas include characterizations of the interactions between proteins and membranes, sugars or nucleic acids. Most of the research is fundamental, with insights gained leading to biomedical advances in the future. Some applications are closer at hand, such as improving inhibitors of proteases involved in cancer metastasis.
Progress on these challenges often comes hand-in-hand with development of technology to better probe these biomolecules. With close association to the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, we utilize magnetic resonance and mass spectrometry to analyze structure and dynamics. Other in-house techniques include cryo-electron microscopy, x-ray crystallography, and computer simulation. FSU is home to one of the world’s most advanced robotic electron microscopes, the FEI Titan Krios. A University-wide shared High Performance Computing Facility with nearly 7,000 cores and advanced visualization capabilities supports computational research. FSU is also a member of SER-CAT at the Advanced Photon Source in Argonne, IL with access to third generation synchrotron beam lines at the world’s second most powerful x-ray source.
Computational approaches allow the extrapolation from available experimental data to the study of important molecular associations and motions that are transient or otherwise inaccessible to direct experimentation. Computation also provides the means to test our understanding of the basic theory of molecular interactions which allows us to predict the properties of biomolecules.
Top photo: Scott Stagg Lab, 2012. 4.5 Ångstrom resolution structure of adeno-associated virus DJ by cryogenic electron microscopy (cryoEM). The β sheets (orange) near the five-fold symmetry axis are featured in this image. This structure represents one of the first macromolecules determined by cryoEM to high enough resolution to be able to trace the polypeptide chain of the proteins making up the complex.