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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.

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Last modified on September 29, 2009