The importance of structural biology
Structural biology is a powerful tool to understand how cells work. It reaches for the limits of our understanding of biomolecular structure and function and reveals how these can be modified. Such fundamental knowledge is increasingly important for the development of new therapeutics to meet the challenges of an ageing society, universal health coverage and global pandemics.
Structural biology methods
In recent years, there has been a revolution in structural biology. Macromolecular crystallography has become a mature technique that can rapidly reveal the structure of a crystalline sample, and small-angle X-ray scattering (SAXS) offers the complementarity to probe flexible proteins that are hard to crystallise. Magnetic resonance techniques have become increasingly powerful for atomic-level studies, and in-cell methods are allowing scientists to probe biomolecular structure and dynamics directly within the living cell. A multiplicity of biophysical methods are available to expound the structure of complex biological systems and, more recently, cryo-electron microscopy (cryoEM) has exploded on to the scene, revealing the structures of large molecules and complexes at a higher resolution than previously thought possible.
Integrative structural biology
A major challenge in biology is understanding how biomolecules function dynamically within a larger assembly or cellular pathway. Often, the dynamic processes that are co-ordinated at the cellular level are difficult to capture using a single technique alone, but they can be made accessible by integrating multiple approaches that span different resolution scales. This integrative approach to structural biology has transformed our understanding of how biomolecules function, interact, and fit within the cell.
The role of Instruct-ERIC
Instruct-ERIC is a dynamic, distributed infrastructure of research centres across Europe, providing peer-reviewed access to state-of-the-art, structural biology technologies. Instruct Centres help to develop the next generation of instrumentation in partnership with industry, and provide training and internships to support structural biologists in developing expertise in cutting-edge methodologies. The services offered by Instruct-ERIC are available to academic and industry researchers worldwide, and funding is available to academic researchers from Instruct Member countries.
Through its Centres, Instruct-ERIC offers access to a catalogue of over 60 different services, supporting an integrative approach to solving multi-scale problems in structural biology.
- Sample preparation – macromolecular and membrane protein crystallisation, nanobody production
- Biomolecular analysis – native and proteomic mass spectrometry, molecular biophysics
- 3D structural analysis – cryo-electron microscopy, bio-SAXS, NMR.
Instruct offers a variety of training courses to equip scientists with knowledge of the latest technologies and how to maximise their use. An annual programme of hands-on workshops is delivered by international experts on a broad range of topics.
The Instruct Internship Programme funds three- to six-month research placements at an Instruct Centre. These internships establish valuable collaborations and allow early-career scientists to develop expertise to enhance their research.
From time to time, Instruct publishes calls for small-scale pilot research projects in integrated structural biology. These R&D awards help researchers to ultimately gain external funding from national or international funding bodies.