FROM THE VICE PRESIDENT
Sidebar: Are oceans becoming acidic?
LOST LEWIS AND CLARK
Sidebar: Neurons get their close-up
Sidebar: Core facility models molecules
A HAZARDOUS WORLD
Sidebar: Genes, the environment and you
Cover: An illustration of UM's Main Hall tower bathed in the glow of a fictitious smoldering Earth.
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facility models molecules
A powerful tool in the arsenal of UM’s neuroscience center is its Molecular Computational Core Facility.
This high-tech computing environment, whose hardware is housed on the fourth floor of the 2007 addition to the Skaggs Building, allows researchers to visualize the drug molecules and proteins they work with in 3-D space. They can even use special glasses and displays to reach out and manipulate their constructs in something bordering on virtual reality.
Like many UM scientists, chemist Sean Esslinger links directly to the computing facility from his Skaggs Building office. He says the facility can be essential in helping him design new molecules.
“It can take months to design a molecule in the lab,” Esslinger says. “If you are trying to create a molecule to interact with a particular protein, if it doesn’t line up on the computers, chances are it’s not going to work. So this computational modeling can save you a lot of time.”
Associate Professor John Gerdes says allowing computers to model proteins and their binding sites is a great advantage for drug design and discovery. He says the facility allows scientists to see if molecules and proteins dock together well and then view this interaction from all angles. If something isn’t working, models may suggest areas to improve or pieces that need to be added.
Professor Chuck Thompson says, “It’s sort of like playing with Legos. The computer can look at molecules that exhibit the activity and behaviors you want, coalesce all the good pieces you want and maybe indicate where the bad pieces might be. This often gets you pointed in the right direction.”