Friday, 27 October 2017

Welcome to new PPS students - and blogging crystallography

This post is very like those I have written at the beginning of the academic year for the past few years, if posted rather later than usual. This is because what I have to say now is also very similar...

I would like to offer a warm welcome to the Principles of Protein Structure blog to all students who have recently started studying Birkbeck's Principles of Protein Structure (PPS) course, and a welcome back to any who have taken a break in studies and intend to complete the course this year.

I run this blog to link the material that you will be studying in the course to new research developments in the areas of protein structure and function and related aspects of biotechnology and medicine. I might, example, report on talks given in the ISMB seminar series run jointly by the Department of Biological Sciences at Birkbeck and research departments in neighbouring University College London. The programme for Autumn 2017 focuses on the molecular biology of cancer; there is some material on this topic in section 5 of this course, 'Towards Tertiary Structure', where we look briefly at the structure and function of kinases. Many of the newer anti-cancer drugs, including Glivec, which has transformed the prospects for patients with chronic myeloid leukaemia, target this class of protein. Other posts may be reports from conferences or summaries of recently published papers in protein structure and allied areas; watch out for one at the end of this year featuring a lecture by the UK's newest Nobel laureate, Richard Henderson.

Some earlier posts were written by "guest blogger" Jill Faircloth, who took the MSc in Structural Molecular Biology a few years ago and is now working as a freelance science communicator. She introduces herself in this post written in March 2012, in which she also describes how she found the later part of the PPS course and her thoughts on the two choices available for the second year of the MSc.

Do, if you get a chance, look through some blog posts from earlier years to see the kind of topics that we will be discussing. However, don't be discouraged if at this stage of the course you find the science presented there difficult to understand. I can assure you that it will get easier!

And I hope that you will also be interested in some more blogging of mine, in which I explore crystallography - the most popular experimental technique for determining protein structures - more widely. In August I was lucky enough to attend the congress of the International Union of Crystallography in Hyderabad, India, and to write the conference blog. The topics I covered over the 8 days of the meeting ranged from crystallography in history to crystallography in space, but did also include some structural biology. The first post in this series covers the opening ceremony, including the award of one of crystallography's highest honours, the Ewald Prize, to Sir Tom Blundell, a former head of the Department of Crystallography at Birkbeck (now part of the Department of Biological Sciences). Sir Tom is perhaps best known for his part in solving the structure of HIV protease, target of some of the most successful drugs for AIDS, and he went on to found a drug discovery company, Astex. A later post describes a plenary lecture by John Spence of Arizona State University on imaging proteins in motion.

Finally, the best of luck for the 2017-18 PPS course and for your studies at Birkbeck! We hope that many of you will go on to complete our MSc in Structural Molecular Biology.

Best wishes,

Dr Clare Sansom
Senior Associate Lecturer, Biological Sciences, Birkbeck and Tutor, Principles of Protein Structure

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