Scientists from Clemson and across the nation attended a recent daylong workshop on integrative structural biology.

Scientists from Clemson and across the nation attended a recent daylong workshop on integrative structural biology.
Image Credit: Jim Melvin / Clemson University

CLEMSON – Scientists from around the nation joined forces with Clemson University researchers at a dynamic and multifaceted workshop titled “The Future of Integrative Structural Biology” on April 29 at the Watt Family Innovation Center.

The daylong event served as a platform to discuss integrative methods in the field of structural biology, a powerful tool used to understand and unravel the molecular mechanisms of life.

Opening remarks by Lesly Temesvari, interim associate dean for research in the College of Science, emphasized the importance of the word “integrative” in the workshop and its role in structural biology. Just like the google car integrates technologies from various fields to become an autonomous car, various structural methodologies are emerging which together could improve our resolutions and accuracy on the structural models of biomolecular machines.

“In recent years, Clemson University has hired new faculty with the intent of looking more into molecular physics and how these structures enable the machinery of life to work,” said Hugo Sanabria, co-organizer of the event who is an assistant professor in the College of Science’s department of physics and astronomy. “Integrating multiple methods from across the structural biology toolset is one way in which the field is evolving. We brought people here with expertise in different areas to see if there could be an overlap or synergy to work together.”

Structural biologists seek to provide a comprehensive picture of biological phenomena at the molecular level. The scientists at the workshop discussed developments in integrative structural biology through a combination of Electron Microscope, Electron Paramagnetic Resonance, Forster Resonance Energy Transfer, X-ray scattering and computational methods.

“The promise of integrative methods in structural biology is two-fold: to bridge the atomic and cell scales, and to include dynamics in otherwise static structures,” said Joshua Alper, workshop co-organizer and assistant professor in the department of physics and astronomy. “There were many great ideas generated and shared about how integrative methods will be used to create a functional molecular atlas of the cell.”

Vera Bin San Chan, a postdoctoral researcher in the department of biological sciences, presented work on the structural basis for chitin-facilitated mineralization in the eastern oyster.

Vera Bin San Chan, a postdoctoral researcher in the department of biological sciences, presented work on the structural basis for chitin-facilitated mineralization in the eastern oyster.
Image Credit: Jim Melvin / Clemson University

Clemson presenters and participants included:

  • Vera Bin San Chan, a postdoctoral researcher in the department of biological sciences, who presented work on the structural basis for chitin-facilitated mineralization in the eastern oyster;
  • Satyanarayana Lagishetty, a postdoctoral researcher in the department of genetics and biochemistry, who discussed structural variations based on enzyme functions in a large kinase family called Phosphopfructokinases;
  • Other Clemson representatives included Kerry Smith, director of the Eukaryotic Pathogens Innovations Center; Terri Bruce, director of the Clemson Light Imaging Facility; Robert Cohen, chair of the department of biological sciences; and William Marcotte, chair of the department of genetics and biochemistry.

Scientists from around the nation included:

  • Mark Bathe of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who runs an interdisciplinary research group focused on developing integrated computational-experimental approaches for engineering biology;
  • Mark Bowen of Stony Brook University, who works on single molecule approaches to understanding the mechanism of synaptic transmission;
  • Daniel Keedy of the University of California-San Francisco, who has exploited multi-temperature X-ray crystallography and multi-conformer structural modeling to identify allosteric networks and binding sites in dynamic proteins;
  • Catherine Lawson of Rutgers University, a structural biologist with expertise in X-ray crystallography and 3D electron microscopy reconstruction structure determination methods;
  • Daniela Nicastro of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, whose research is focused on the three-dimensional structure and function of cytoskeletal assemblies, molecular motors, organelles and cells using multiple cryo-transmission electron microscopy based methods to elucidate the structure-form relationships of macromolecular complexes in their native environment;
  • Tatyana Smirnova of North Carolina State, whose research interests include applications of Electron Paramagnetic Resonance in combination with spin labeling to probe structure and dynamics of biomolecules;
  • Elizabeth Wright of Emory University School of Medicine, who has pioneered the development and application of numerous technologies, including affinity grid methods for correlative fluorescence light microscopy and electron microscopy of viruses and protein complexes on EM grids;
  • Sichun Yang of Case Western Reserve University, who focuses on the biophysics and translational studies of estrogen receptor, a key driver for breast cancer growth.

The workshop was supported by Clemson University (EPIC, department of physics and astronomy, department of biochemistry and genetics), Oak Ridge Associated Universities and American Friends of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.