The Division of Structural Biology (STRUBI) is part of the Nuffield Department of Clinical Medicine (NDM) at the University of Oxford. STRUBI is also part of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics. The Division includes the Oxford Protein Production Facility-UK (OPPF-UK) and the Oxford Particle Imaging Centre (OPIC).
STRUBI is situated in the Old Road Campus in the Headington area of Oxford. The Division applies the techniques of structural biology, particularly macromolecular crystallography and electron microscopy, to the study of biomedically important processes. The research interests of the Division include the structural study of viral proteins and intercellular recognition.
The OPPF-UK is an MRC-funded project to develop methods and automation for high-throughput structural proteomics studies of medically important targets. It is particularly focused on protein production, purification and crystal growth. The OPPF-UK relocated in 2010 to the new Research Complex at Harwell, adjacent to the Diamond Light Source to establish it as a national facility. Funded by the MRC and BBSRC, the OPPF-UK is a National Resource Centre for protein production and crystallization.
The OPIC is located in the Henry Wellcome Building for Particle Imaging. This Wellcome Trust-funded facility allows scientists to study macromolecular complexes, such as human and animal viruses, in their native cellular environment using a range of structural and biophysical tools. The facility houses state-of-the-art laboratories at ACDP Cat 3 and DEFRA 4 levels of containment. allowing study of viruses that are important to human health worldwide, such as HIV and Dengue virus.
The Division of Structural Biology is a leading player in efforts to coordinate European structural biology. The Division hosts the Coordination office of Instruct, an international collaboration helping to realize the goal of integrated large-scale structural biology resources across Europe. Instruct provides access to European researchers from member countries to state-of-the-art infrastructure and technologies. Located at Instruct centres around Europe, these resources facilitate world-leading research in structural cell biology.
STRUBI is part of the Nuffield Department of Clinical Medicine. STRUBI is situated in the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics and it includes the OPIC and the OPPF-UK, housed by the Research Complex at Harwell
At STRUBI we study a wide range of bio-medically important processes from a structural and mechanistic point of view. As a prospective student I was really excited by the breadth of research spanning a broad swath of modern biology including the molecular basis of transcription and translation, cell surface signalling, membrane and pore-forming protein structure, viral structural biology, the nature of host-pathogen interaction and the structural basis of learning and memory.
As a student here, I have been incredibly lucky to have access to state-of-the-art equipment which has allowed me to be at the cutting edge of structural biology. STRUBI has excellent in-house facilities for X-ray data collection. We can test crystals for diffraction prior to synchrotron trips and we can also collect data in-house.
A particular strength at STRUBI is Electron Microscopy: we have a suite of three electron microscopes, including two 300 kV field emission gun liquid nitrogen electron microscopes. Here you can see Pascale and Charlotte using the “Tecnai Polara 300 keV electron microscope” looking at cells grown directly onto a gold electron microscopy grid and snap frozen in vitreous ice to preserve cellular structure. A low magnification search allows them to target the cell of interest. When using a higher magnification on thin areas of the cell, you can see cellular components such as endosomes and ribosomes. A series of tilted images are collected and can later be reconstructed to give a 3D tomogram.
We have world class crystallization facilities which take advantage of the latest high through-put technologies including 96-well plates dispensing and crystallization robots, crystallization optimization robots, a storage vault with a capacity of 10,000 plates and a fully integrated automated imaging system.
Of particular importance to my PhD, which uses mammalian expression systems to investigate hedgehog signalling, is the high-throughput tissue culture robot which is able to process flasks, either splitting or carrying out automated transient transfections giving me time to process data or conduct other experiments. By complementing my X-ray structure with a variety of biophysical and biochemical methods, such as Surface Plasmon Resonance and Luciferase Reporter Assays, I was able to relate structural findings to functional data.
We are in a very fortunate geographical position having the best source of X-rays in the UK: the Diamond Light Source synchrotron, which is a mere 15 miles drive south of Oxford. On average we visit the synchrotron once a week which means that we have plenty of beamtime available to collect data.
Because of our recognised expertise in structural biology in the UK and in Europe, STRUBI hosts the Coordination office of INSTRUCT, an international collaboration helping to realize the goal of integrated large-scale structural biology resources across Europe.
The Division is home to more than 80 researchers divided into 11 groups with a strong history of collaboration where people take advantage of expertise from multiple groups to explore novel biological problems. Postgraduate study within the Division of Structural Biology is possible as part of several different programmes of research. Students benefit from supportive supervision and various training possibilities. Currently, there are 50 students with over half being from outside the UK, creating a truly international atmosphere.
If you are interested in joining us as a graduate student or postdoc, or if you would like to collaborate with us, please see our website or contact us for further information.