Peer Bork
Director of EMBL Heidelberg (Scientific Activities)

The Unit pursues an ambitious research programme in integrated structural and computational systems biology bridging between various spatial and temporal scales.

The Unit currently consists of 14 groups covering a broad methodological spectrum that allows tackling problems at different ranges of spatial and temporal resolution from single amino acid side chain conformations to organismal communities. Molecular structures and dynamic information obtained by X-ray crystallography, NMR and high-resolution single-particle electron microscopy are integrated into the cellular context by electron tomography and correlated light microscopy. Dedicated large scale biochemistry, proteomics, metabolomics, chemical biology, biophysics, and cell biology approaches complement these structural biology activities enabling new research directions. These coordinated experimental activities (8 groups) are synergistic to a large computational biology programme (6 groups), which integrates the different information layers to be able to work towards comprehensive descriptions of biological functions at different spatial scales.

Christoph Müller
Head of Structural and Computational Biology Unit


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. For example, several groups contribute to the characterisation of the thermophilic fungus Chaetomium thermophilum, a model organism for structural biology, to understand its molecular networks and the molecular and cellular principles for eukaryotic thermophily.

Beyond its respective core technologies in structural and computational biology, 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. Several service activities are setup around major technologies, for example the Unit serves as hub for bioinformatics coordination across all EMBL Heidelberg research groups, provides access to high-throughput crystallisation, cryo-EM and NMR instrumentation, and engages in the organisation of EMBL-wide facilities and computational biology centres.

The SCB Unit is very well equipped for experimental and computational work. Experimental facilities include: crystallisation robot and automated crystal visualisation; rotating anode and X-ray detector; 800 MHz, 700 MHz, 600 MHz and 500 MHz NMR spectrometers; several transmission cryo-electron microscopes, including Titan Krios, Talos Arctica and Polara microscopes equipped with direct detectors; and a focused-ion-beam milling and scanning electron microscope (FIB/SEM). 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 considerable computing resources including an in-house cluster with 6000 CPU cores and petabytes of storage, whereby large central and distributed resources are conveniently networked.

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

Overview on Research in the Structural and Computational Biology Unit

Structural Biology Barabas Group (Visiting)

Mechanism, regulation, and application of mobile DNA

Beck Group (Visiting) Structure and function of large macromolecular assemblies
Dodonova Group (from Oct. 2021) Organisational principles and 3D architecture of archaeal chromatin
Duss Group Assembly mechanisms of protein-RNA complexes at the single-molecule level
Eustermann Group Exploring the chromatin landscape by cryo-electron microscopy
Gavin Group (Visiting) Biomolecular networks in health and disease
Hennig Group Integrated structural biology of translation regulation mechanisms
Mahamid Group In situ structural analysis of phase separation and molecular crowding
Mattei Team High-throughput cryo-EM
Müller Group Molecular mechanisms of transcriptional regulation in eukaryotes
Zimmermann Group
Metabolic host-microbiome interactions
Computational Biology Alexandrov Team Spatial and single-cell metabolomics
Bork Group Deciphering function and evolution of biological systems
Dorrity Group (from Jan. 2022) Environmental response at the single-cell level
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