Structural and Computational Biology

Computational biology is the name of a new field that deals in the relation between biological systems and computer sciences and mathematics. Structural biology deals experimentally with research of the structure of biological molecules and the interactions between them, and also makes great use of computational instruments.
Research in the field of computational biology focuses on three major fields:

  • Bio-informatics which deals in the information that is contained in biological sequences such as DNA, RNA and proteins.
  • Systems biology which deals in computational analysis of the behavior of large biological systems, where the basic assumption is that the whole system is larger than the sum of its parts.
  • Mathematical biology which focuses on the development of mathematical models which enable understanding the complex behavior of biological systems.

Research in the field of structural biology focuses on the following methods:

  • Crystallography: the crystallization of biological molecules into crystals and use of X-rays enable determination of the molecular structure of the molecules at a high level of accuracy.
  • NMR, nuclear magnetic resonance: an experimental technique that enables determining the distance between the atoms, and thus the spatial structure of the molecule in a solution, based on the relation between magnetic spins of the nuclei of different atoms.
  • Fluorescence: use of fluorescent markers and calculating decay curves based on distances between the markers enable learning not only about the structure of the molecule but also about the dynamics of the structure's behavior.

Computational and structural biology are fields with numerous interfacial points, and many researchers deal in both. In Israel and around the world recognition of the importance of the topics of computational and structural biology has been increasing in recent years, mainly because of the project of deciphering the human genome and the computational challenges it poses, as well as the recognition that the next stage in understanding the human genome depends to a large extent on the structural analysis of the molecules which the genome encodes. These fields comprise the nucleus of many biotechnology companies, and the demand for manpower in this field is on the rise worldwide. Israel is considered an academic leader in this field, and it is hoped that as a result, and with the training of the suitable manpower, the sophisticated industry in the fields of computational and structural biology in Israel will develop and expand.