The Structural Biology Research Unit co-ordinates and promotes the experimental determination of biological structure at the University of Cape Town. The Unit is a grant funded entity, operationally located in the Integrative Biomedical Sciences Department in the Health Sciences Faculty. It employs staff, provides a home for post-graduate students and post-doctoral fellows and conducts research. It has members who are UCT academics who wish to conduct structural research and who are prepared to apply for grants to fund research in the Unit. The Unit also has affiliates, either from South Africa or abroad, who participate in the activities of the Unit in a variety of ways – including but not limited to: providing advice and expertise, exchanging materials, providing resources and using the resources of the Unit.
The visualization of the structure of biological objects ranging from cells to macromolecules with microscopic or atomic detail is essential for understanding how living systems work. The knowledge of the structures can be exploited to produce medicines and vaccines, ecologically friendly industrial processes and agricultural products. The unit specializes in determining structures experimentally by electron microscopy and X-ray crystallography and makes extensive use of computer based modelling to extend the results. The unit has access to unique resources for the purification and preliminary characterization of proteins, cryo-electron microscopy and X-ray diffraction at a synchrotron beamline. It plays a pivotal role in South Africa’s BioEconomy strategy by providing the core expertise for establishment of the discipline of Structural Biology in the whole country and applying the technology to a wide range of problems of scientific, medical and industrial interest.