Coming Of Age
Structural biology--the study of the three-dimensional shapes of biological macromolecules--has always been a facet of biological research, from the detection of cells in the earliest days of microscopy in the late 17th century to the first X-ray crystallographic images of proteins in the 1950s and the development of DNA technologies that made proteins more accessible for study through the 1970s and 1980s.
"Every biological process occurs within, or is associated with, some structure," says Kenneth Miller, a professor of biology at Brown University, Providence, R.I. And in order to truly understand these processes, he says, there is no substitute for knowing the molecular details of that structure.
Miller and other researchers agree that proteins--more than any other macromolecule--are the functional units of biological activity. Some of the more important proteins that are studied by structural biologists are: enzymes that catalyze such vital processes as DNA...