The work of life is ultimately carried out through the actions of biomolecules. In a sense, these molecules provide a bridge between the non-living and the living. An individual biomolecule, protein or nucleic acid, is itself a complex system comparable in size to the nanostructures currently being studied by physicists and chemists. Many aspects of the behavior of biomolecules is similar to those of any small many-body system, but they have other aspects that are unique amongst all forms of matter. Biomolecules have very complex yet organized phase space --- which is often described as an energy landscape. Understanding the formation and functioning of biomolecules, as molecular machines, is the focus of cellular tectonics.
At the most fundamental scale, quantum mechanics, allows one to examine in explicit and quantitative detail the atomic and molecular motions (electronic dynamics) of biomolecules, and subsequently gain a better understanding of their function and the mechanism(s) of function. One step up on the spatial scale, is an examination of the gross anatomical structure of these biomolecules, also referred to as structural biology. Traditionally, molecular biophysics has played a significant part in structural biology by focusing on sequence-structure mapping, and applying innovative modeling concepts and powerful computational algorithms to the structure-function problem. Biomolecules rarely function in isolation, hence a thorough understanding of biological processes is dependent upon an examination of complexes of biomolecules, and the interactions between complexes. This level of examination is analogous to traditional physics approaches focused on understanding large, multi-body, multi-scale systems. For example, large-scale motions occur and are often essential for biomolecule function, especially with regard to proteins. Theoretical approaches developed for folding which incorporate the interplay between energetics and configurational entropy can now be utilized to study protein function. For example, problems such as protein-protein binding and allosteric effects in larger proteins, both essential for signaling in cellular function, are now being theoretically investigated using new algorithms and parallel computation.
Representative CTBP Research Publications
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