All biology rests on structural observations. The term “structural biology” has during the last two decades come to mean the study of macromolecular structure as the basis for understanding molecular function in the context of cells and organisms. Contemporary technologies and prospects for their further development have added the dimensions of time and cellular context to the three dimension of classical molecular-structure analysis. To facilitate advances in these new domains of structural biology, Harvard Medical School has created the Center for Molecular and Cellular Dynamics (CMCD), a virtual center comprising over a dozen laboratories at Harvard (both HMS and FAS) and its affiliated hospitals.
One way to describe our goal is to say that we wish to understand how cells work by producing and analyzing “molecular movies” of internal events in cells and of external events that impinge upon them. Experimental methods that will yield the data for such movies include x-ray crystallography, nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, molecular electron microscopy, single-molecule biophysics, and live-cell imaging, and the CMCD is charged with developing and maintaining the relevant technologies for the Harvard community. Thus, at one pole is structural analysis of macromolecules and macromolecular assemblies at atomic resolution, and at the other pole is contemporary light microscopy of living cells. In between lie single-particle electron microscopy and other single-molecule techniques using the optical microscope. All these approaches require a powerful computational infrastructure.