Picobiology : Life Science at the atomic level

Picobiology: Life Science at the atomic level" was selected in 2007 as one of the 13 programs in the field, "Life Science

Objective of Research Center Establishment, Outline, and Reasons for Adoption of the Plan

Objective of Research Center Establishment
All physiological processes are comprised of chemical reactions, each driven by proteins. Accordingly, in order to elucidate the mechanism of a physiological process, the process being studied is first analyzed in detail. Further, the proteins that drive the process are identified and isolated (cell biology). Next, the structures of the functional center of isolated individual proteins are determined at a precision of picometer (0.01Å) level by X-ray structure analysis and vibrational spectrometry. By this, special distribution of individual atom and chemical properties of the functional groups making up the functional center are clarified, and the function of proteins can be understood as a chemical reaction (structure biology). Like this, a research aimed at understanding any physiological process as the chemical reaction at atomic level is named picobiology.
Cell biology is studied by molecular biological and biochemical methods and structure biology, as mentioned above, by X-ray structure analysis and vibrational spectroscopy. The studies are usually conducted by the different groups since the study techniques are greatly different. However, the studies are to be conducted in close cooperation. In order to realize this cooperation, it is essential that an expert in one field should have a good understanding of the essence of a research in another field. Training the researchers with such potential is the upmost objective of our research base.
As a way to train young researchers who can promote the world-class research, the best way is to let them practice the world-class research. Then, letting young researchers participate in the world leading picobiology research shall be positioned as the most important measure in the strategy to train researchers at our research center.
Outline of Research Center Establishment Plan
In the functional center of protein, functional groups of the various amino acid residues and cofactors are distributed spaciously, forming inherent asymmetry inside the functional center which provides various physical properties. This asynmetry is indeed central to the characteristic function of the protein. Therefore, in order to elucidate the function of proteins, first of all, the spatial distribution of these functional groups is determined by X-ray structure analysis. Next, in order to elucidate chemical properties, it is necessary to determine the structure of the individual functional group at picometer (0.01Å) level by vibrational spectroscopy (resonance Raman and infrared). Resonance Raman spectrometry is used for the vibrational spectroscopic measurement of cofactors having visible absorption and infrared spectrometry for amino acid residues not having visible absorption. However, since infrared spectroscopic system that can be applied to proteins in aqueous solution was not developed, virtually no infrared spectra of amino acid residues included in proteins have been measured until present. That is to say, thus far, the function of amino acid residues was only gassumedh from the results of X-ray structure analysis. In our research department, a trial manufacture of the ultra high-sensitive infrared spectroscopic system that can be applied to proteins in aqueous solution has been continuing for a long time and recently, the system has been essentially perfected. Also, last year, the world largest resonance Raman spectrometric system possible to measure cofactors with any absorption band from near ultraviolet to near infrared (including 20 lasers and 8 Raman spectrometers) was moved to our research department. SPring-8 located nearby has an exclusive possession of beam lines. Also, it has been decided to place a next generation super computer in Kobe. As can be seen, the world largest scale, highest-performance research base to study structural biology is being established.
From whole body level research such as analysis of the mechanism of brain nervous system formation to the mechanism of formation of membrane protein structure, the mechanism of regulation of fat drop function, analysis of single molecule of dynein, crystallization of large membrane protein complex of mitochondrial respiratory system and photosynthesis system, and structural analysis at picometer level of cytochrome c oxidase and hydrogenase, world-class research of the various development stages of picobiology is conducted at this research base. Out of these, ever since the X-ray structure of cytochrome c oxidase was determined in 1995, it was evaluated worldwide that the Yoshikawafs research group has always been leading Bioenergetics and membrane protein research field. By letting young researchers participate subjectively in these projects as well as by sharing the various viewpoints on cell biology and structural biology researches that each research group has, cooperation between both fields will be promoted at this research base.Further, as a way to train gstructural biology researchers who understand cell biologyh and gcell biology researchers who understand structure biologyh, the gshort-term study abroad system within our research baseh will be newly established to let young researchers experience research in different fields and will be instituted as part of the curriculum of the PhD course.
In addition, the Picobiology Institute will be established as a center for the promotion of structure biology research in picobiology. The Institute will consist of 5 departments (Crystal growth mechanism research, Structural analysis, Site-specific isotope labeling research, Vibratinal spectroscopy, Theoretical analyses). The above-mentioned resonance Raman facility was moved from Okazaki General Bioscience Center as a central facility of our institute. To contribute to the development of picobiology, the institute will be open to Japanese at home and non-Japanese overseas similarly to SPring-8. Also, allover support on facility expansion from the prefectural agency is expected.
Reasons for Adoption of the Plan
The Global COE Program Committee announced the following reasons for adoption for this COE program.

Based on the university mid term plan and the Hyogo prefecture policy, the aim is to establish an internationally prominent research center on the basis of a good record standing and the leadership of a research center leader, in order to be proper with the small-sized prefecture university. The research center leader leads the world in the research of cytochrome c oxidase and the research center has excellent researchers including researchers specializing in vibrational spectrometry.

In researcher training, under the philosophy gan excellent researcher is born through practicing excellent researchh, the objective is to train gstructural biologists who understands cell biologyh and gcell biologists who understands structure biologyh. Results are expected, but the educational program needs to further take shape.

Also, regarding the management of the research center, the system for backing up the research center leader, for maintaining the organization including office work, and for properly evaluating the cooperation among the persons in charge of the undertaking promotion needs to be devised.