Structural Biology and Chemistry

Observing life at atomic level because chemistry is the motor of life. Researchers in the Department of Structural Biology and Chemistry study the three-dimensional organization and properties of molecules of biological interest.

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The Department of Structural Biology and Chemistry research reveals vital information for the development of new therapeutic and vaccine strategies. They aim to explain the synthesis of biological molecules involved (or playing some part) in human diseases.

Leading technologies on one site

The department has outstanding expertise and skill, which it shares on the Paris campus with Citech and puts to use on some of the most cutting-edge technological facilities (X-ray diffraction, nuclear magnetic resonance, electron cryomicroscopy, NMR spectroscopy, etc.). It is one of the rare structures in the world where all the major concepts of use are available and can help to gain insight into the structure of molecules and their biological functions at different scales of investigation down to the minutest detail.

One of the most impressive tools in the department is the Titan microscope (or Titan KriosTM), which will come into service in 2017. This microscope, the most powerful in the world, has been purchased by the Institut Pasteur thanks to major government funding (CACSICE Equipex grant) and the generosity of the general public (TITAN project). It can be used to identify protein structure and complexes without crystallization. In the longer term, it will even be possible to observe these proteins directly in the cell, with highly advanced image processing under nanometer scale (over a million times smaller than the millimeter).

Cross-disciplinary expertise on the campus

In addition to the tools used to observe structures in 2D or 3D, the expertise of the department today lies in the functional analysis of observations. Its researchers, engineers, students and postdoctoral fellows implement a range of approaches to simulate and predict (using computing methods) the function of complex biological systems, and then study their dynamics through experimental investigations.

This is how, as early as the 1980s, an Institut Pasteur Structural Biology unit, at the time in the Department of Immunology, was able to observe antibodies. Today, the Department of Structural Biology and Chemistry works with all Institut Pasteur campus departments, particularly Microbiology (study of pathogens), Virology (vaccine design), Neuroscience (research into receptors of acetylcholine - a neurotransmitter), and soon with the Department of Cell Biology thanks to the vast opportunities brought by the Titan microscope.

All this research benefits from the wide range of technological facilities available at the Institut Pasteur.

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Michael Nilges - Institut Pasteur

 

Michael Nilges

Director of the Department of Structural Biology and Chemistry

The structure of a molecule is intricately linked to its function. This is why, by observing molecules at atomic level, we can explain the bases of life and understand the interactions between cells. Thanks to this in-depth knowledge, it becomes possible to rationally design drugs.

 

 

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