Visualizing the fundamentals of life

The natural living world encompasses an immense breadth of complexity, diversity and beauty. Remarkably, the underlying workings of all of biology rely on the functions of a small number of kinds of natural macromolecules, principally proteins, nucleic acids, sugars and lipids, and on the interplay between them.

Together, these molecules perform chemical reactions, dictate the form and function of cells, build cells into organisms, ensure propagation of species, protect us from disease, and do much more.

Alas, these macromolecules, and the complexes into which they assemble to perform their fundamental roles, are too small to see with the human eye, even using a powerful microscope. The discipline of structural biology uses a wide variety of biophysical techniques (like electron microscopy, X-ray crystallography, nuclear magnetic resonance) to visualize them and to assess how these important molecules function, with impressive detail.

Structural biology approaches are therefore very useful to reveal how nature fundamentally works, and to provide key insight into health and disease.