Peer Bork
Joint Head of Unit and Senior Scientist

The Unit pursues an ambitious research programme with a strong basis in integrated structural systems biology and a far-reaching computational component that bridges into various areas of biology.

A wide spectrum of expertise allows the Unit to tackle problems at different ranges of spatial resolution, connecting atomic structures and dynamic information obtained by X-ray crystallography and NMR with medium-range resolution from single particle electron microscopy, and cellular imaging obtained by electron tomography and light microscopy. Dedicated large scale biochemistry, proteomics, chemical biology, biophysics, and cell biology approaches complement the structural biology activities and, in conjunction with a wide range of innovative computational biology activities, are integrated into a comprehensive description of biological function.

Christoph Müller
Joint Head of Unit and Senior Scientist


Within the Unit, there is a continuing interplay between groups with expertise in different methodologies. This reflects our belief that a combination of structural and functional studies is the most rewarding route to an understanding of the molecular basis of biological function, and that computational biology is essential to integrate the variety of tools and heterogeneous data into a comprehensive spatial and temporal description of biological processes. Along those lines, groups in the Unit pursue a few common large projects. One example is the comprehensive structural and temporal description of an entire cell at almost molecular resolution. It goes hand in hand with the application of and integration of various ‘omics’ approaches to the small bacterium Mycoplasma pneumoniae, by characterising its dynamic protein organisation and merging this molecular information to cellular, high-resolution tomograms. In the thermophilic fungus Chaetomium thermophilum spatial and temporal networks will be deduced using multidisciplinary approaches including structural studies, large scale biochemistry and computational biology. Together, they will provide insight into eukaryotic thermophily at the molecular and cellular level.

Overview on Research in the Structural and Computational Biology Unit

Structural Biology Barabas Group

Mechanism, regulation, and exploitation of mobile DNA

Beck Group Structure and function of large macromolecular assemblies
Briggs Group Viruses and vesicles – cryo-electron microscopy and tomography
Carlomagno Group (Visiting) Functional mechanisms of complex enzymes involved in RNA metabolism and methodology development for drug design
Gavin Group Biomolecular networks
Hennig Group Integrated structural biology of translation regulation mechanisms
Lemke Group Structural light microscopy - single molecule spectroscopy
Müller Group Molecular mechanisms of transcriptional regulation in eukaryotes
Sachse Group Single-particle electron cryomicroscopy of the autophagy machinery
Computational Biology Alexandrov Team Spatial metabolomics
Bork Group Deciphering function and evolution of biological systems
Gibson Team Biological sequence analysis
Patil Group Architecture and regulation of metabolic networks
Zaugg Group Personalised genomics to study genetic basis of complex diseases
Zeller Team Understanding human microbiome perturbations in the context of personalised health and disease

Currently, the Unit consists of twelve research groups covering a broad methodological spectrum. The core technologies include electron microscopy (three groups), X-ray crystallography (two groups), NMR (one group), chemical biology (two groups) and computational biology (four groups). However, each group reaches out into different areas, for example, there is considerable expertise in proteomics, metabolomics and next generation sequencing. In addition, several groups based in other Units have shared appointments with the Unit.

The Unit is very well equipped for experimental and computational work. Experimental facilities include: a crystallisation robot and automated crystal visualisation; rotating anode and image plate detector for the collection of X-ray diffraction data; 800 MHz, 700 MHz, 600 MHz and 500 MHz NMR spectrometers; and several transmission electron microscopes, including a high-throughput Titan Krios microscope for single particle cryo-electron microscopy and cryo-electron tomography. The Unit also has facilities for single-molecule light microscopy, metabolic imaging, isothermal calorimetry, circular dichroism, static and dynamic light scattering and analytical ultracentrifugation, as well as for large-scale growth of prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells. The computing environment offers access to around 3,000 CPU cores, whereby large central clusters and separate workstations are conveniently networked.

Peer Bork and Christoph Müller
Joint Heads of the Structural and Computational Biology Unit