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Structural Biology


ORNL researcher Flora Meilleur prepares protein solutions for structural investigation with neutrons. Source: ORNL Flickr siteResearchers are leveraging powerful ORNL capabilities in neutron science and high-performance computing to understand the structure and function of biological systems at the atomic, molecular, and cellular levels. This research includes investigations conducted and enabled by two ORNL centers:

  • Center for Molecular Biophysics
  • Center for Structural Molecular Biology

Center for Molecular Biophysics

Scientists at the Center for Molecular Biophysics perform research at the interface of biological, environmental, physical, computational, and neutron sciences. Their goal is to study and understand the function of biologically relevant molecular systems by employing high-performance computer simulations in combination with biophysical experiments. Research at the center, staffed by scientists from both ORNL and the University of Tennessee, is strongly interdisciplinary, incorporating elements of theoretical physics, quantum chemistry, statistical mechanics, simulation methodologies, and molecular and synthetic systems biology. Current projects involve the following research areas and approaches:

  • Bioenergy
  • Enzyme catalysis
  • Neutron scattering
  • Supercomputing
  • Subsurface biogeochemistry
  • Biomolecule folding and function
  • Biomedical research
  • Multiscale simulations
  • Biomolecular hydration

Learn more about the Center for Molecular Biophysics.

Center for Structural Molecular Biology

The Center for Structural Molecular Biology (CSMB) is a U.S. Department of Energy user facility at ORNL’s High Flux Isotope Reactor and Spallation Neutron Source. The center is dedicated to developing instrumentation and methods for determining the structure, function, and dynamics of complex biological systems. CSMB’s suite of tools includes a small-angle neutron scattering (SANS) facility for studying biological samples under physiological (or physiologically relevant) and industrial processing conditions, small- and wide-angle X-ray scattering instruments, a bio-deuteration laboratory for in vivo isotopic labeling, and advanced computational resources for modeling proteins and protein complexes.

Deuterium-labeling techniques enable scientists to selectively highlight and map chemically distinct components of larger protein-protein, protein-lipid, or protein–nucleic acid complexes and to follow their conformational changes and assembly or disassembly processes in solution on biologically relevant time scales. These capabilities are helping researchers understand how macromolecular systems are formed and interact with other systems in living cells—ultimately bridging the information gap between cellular function and the molecular mechanisms that drive it.

Learn more about the Center for Structural Molecular Biology.

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