The Living Lab for Structural Biology is a collaboration between the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and FEI, a company that designs and manufactures electron microscopes and related technologies. This collaboration was formed to develop innovative methods to address one of the biggest challenges in structural biology: the visualization of complex, heterogeneous protein assemblies at near-atomic resolution.
These types of dynamic protein complexes are at the heart of cellular function, but are largely intractable to analysis by traditional methods in structural biology, such as X-ray crystallography and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy. We believe that cryo-electron microscopy has the potential to fill this gap, and to vastly increase the rate at which researchers can obtain structural information at high resolution.
The Living Lab is based in the Subramaniam lab (http://electron.nci.nih.gov) at the Center for Cancer Research, National Cancer Institute (NCI). The collaboration brings together a diverse interdisciplinary team composed of scientists from NCI and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) and applications specialists from FEI, whose collective expertise spans the range from electron microscopy, nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy and X-ray crystallography to biochemistry and computational biology. By generating robust workflows that integrate diverse technologies in structural biology, we aim to overcome the hurdles to generating high-resolution structures of protein complexes fundamental to biological, medical, and pharmaceutical research.
Bridging the Gap
Cryo-electron microscopy has the potential to determine the structures of macromolecular complexes that lie in the “gap,” complexes that cannot be visualized by light microscopy, and that may be too large or too dynamic for structure determination by other methods.
The "Workflow" Concept
One of the key aims of the Living Lab for Structural biology is to create “workflows,” sets of predefined steps or instructions that can guide a researcher from a purified protein all the way to a structure.