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The University of Southampton
Biological Sciences

Boost for structural biology at the University of Southampton with BBSRC £2M programme grant

Published: 16 May 2024
Macromolecular Crystallisation
Chris Holes is a technician in the Macromolecular Crystallisation Facility

Biomolecules such as proteins are involved in immunity and diseases and it is important to study their atomic structure to understand how they work. Structural biology, a field that investigates the structures of biomolecules, is changing fast: Artificial Intelligence (AI) is providing new possibilities to predict protein structures. But capturing the function requires more than a snapshot: the interesting thing is to see biomolecules move. Documenting dynamics, however, is challenging.

This new frontier in experimental structure determination has seen a boost in the UK by the recent award from the BBSRC of a £2M programme grant developed and coordinated by Dr Ivo Tews at the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Southampton. The project exploits AI to allow quicker determination and better validation of experimental structures but its major focus is to push boundaries in the computational analysis of experimental data to tease out protein structure dynamics. This research will create molecular movies to allow researchers to observe molecules in action. The network includes partners from the Diamond Light Source, the Research Complex at Harwell / STFC, the LMB / MRC Cambridge, and the Universities of Liverpool, Newcastle and York.


Martin Malý
Martin Malý works on computational methods for protein crystallography

At the University of Southampton, protein structure determination and X-ray crystallography are well embedded techniques. Dr Tews has been supported by the Institute for Life Sciences which has enabled structural biology techniques to permeate interdisciplinary research programmes across the University.

Recent successes have included the development of novel cancer therapeutics led by the Centre for Cancer Immunology and published in Nature and Science Immunology and in the discovery of the mechanism of antibody deactivation by flesh-eating bacteria published in Nature Communications. A further breakthrough published in PNAS showed how structural biology can transform our understanding of protein dynamics, and partners the Diamond Light Source, the National Biofilms Innovation Centre, marine biology and ecology.

Anjala Gammanpila
Anjala Gammanpila is a PhD student working on crystal seeding robotics

The Director of the Institute for Life Sciences, Prof. Max Crispin, said “Structural biology is the epitome of interdisciplinary research, and the range of applications has been extraordinary.  The new techniques being pioneered in these two multicenter awards will secure an exciting future for structural biology in the UK and beyond”.

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