Knowing the three-dimensional
structure of a macromolecule of interest can revolutionize the way a researcher
goes about his or her studies. The enormous information content available
in such structures has sparked the desire of non-structural biologists
to examine the structures of the macromolecules that they study. In the
past, this has meant forming a collaboration with a macromolecular crystallographer
or NMR spectroscopist. Although this model has worked well in many cases,
such collaborations may be difficult to initiate and maintain. In addition,
the specialized nature of macromolecular crystallography and NMR has hindered
general researchers from attempting it themselves.
The UTSW Structural Biology Laboratory (SBL) was formed to add macromolecular
crystallography to the scientific toolkit available to the general researcher.
On-campus investigators initiate projects with SBL. The ethos of these
collaborations is one of vigorous intellectual exchange. In essence, the
SBL becomes an extension of the investigator’s laboratory; the SBL
provides crystallographic expertise, and the investigator provides funds
to support these activities and intellectual credit where it is due. The
investigator retains control of the project, the channels of communication
are always open, and no projects are rejected on the basis of lack of
novelty. This model is unique, and it ensures that the collaborations
formed will be sustained as long as the investigator wishes. A single
structure can be solved, or more detailed studies involving the determination
of many structures can be undertaken.
A collaboration with the SBL usually begins with the investigator supplying
an adequate amount of the macromolecule of interest. The SBL then trains
personnel in the investigator’s laboratory to perform the crystallization
experiment. Once a crystal is obtained, such personnel can be trained
by the SBL to perform the remaining steps of the structure-determination
process. This model allows the collaborators to acquire novel know-how
that will elevate the quality of their research. Alternatively, one of
the structural biologists at the SBL can carry out the determination.
The collaborative model is kept flexible so that the needs of the investigator
are optimally met. The SBL scientists are experienced macromolecular crystallographers
who can guide collaborators through all steps of structure-determination
processes, from cloning to interpretation, publication and presentation.
They are also familiar with a wide range of related fields and can help
in pursuing studies ancillary to the structural investigation (e.g. ligand-binding
and enzyme-activity assays).
The SBL has formed and maintained many fruitful collaborations. We hope
yours will be the next.