Proceedings of the Mizoram Science Congress 2018 (MSC 2018) - Perspective and Trends in the Development of Science Education and Research

Recent twin revolutions in structural biology

M.R.N. Murthy
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M.R.N. Murthy
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X-ray diffraction, synchrotrons, electron microscopy, structural biology
The development of optical microscopes led to the discovery of cells as the fundamental units of life. It made us aware that microbes dominate the living world. However, optical microscopes have limitation as to the size of cell and cell organelles they can focus. This size limit is referred to as the resolution of the microscope, which is in the order of 0.6 λ, where λ is the wave length of light. Wavelength of visible light ranges between 400 nm and 800 nm making the resolution of an optical microscope to the same order. Thus, organelles or the largest biomolecules cannot be seen. For example, ribosomes are about 300 times smaller when compared to the wavelength of visible light. To visualize such structures, electron microscopy and X-ray diffraction are employed. Electron microscopy can magnify beyond visible ranges, enabling us to see organelles. X-ray diffraction has the power of revealing the atomic structure of molecules constituting the biological crystals. A revolution in X-ray diffraction using extremely intense X-ray beams from synchrotrons developed by physicists for their high energy research became fundamental in structural biology. Synchrotrons provide X-ray beams that are several orders of magnitude higher in intensity compared to conventional X-ray sources. It is also possible to combine results of electron microscopy and X-ray diffraction to reveal structures of large viruses in a relatively short time. The secrets of life that X-ray crystallography and electron microscopy might unravel will undoubtedly constitute an exciting saga of twenty first century biology.
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Cite this article
  title={Recent twin revolutions in structural biology},
  author={Murthy, M.R.N.},
  booktitle={Mizoram Science Congress 2018 (MSC 2018)},
  publisher={Atlantis Press}
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