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Event calendar for the month: August 2017

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Ambassador for the Year of Science

Science Network

26/02/2013

2012 SBBE symposium: Structural Biology in the BioEconomy

Grou photo
Left to Right: Professor Heinrich Dirr (University of the Witwatersrand), Dr Stefan Raunser (Max Planck Institute of Molecular Physiology, Dortmund), Dr Dirk Opperman (University of the Free State, Bloemfontein), Professor Martha Smit (University of the Free State, Bloemfontein), Professor Eckhard Hofmann (Ruhr University, Bochum), Professor Trevor Sewell (University of Cape Town) (c) Professor Trevor Sewell (University of Cape Town)

At the conference held in Cape Town at the start of December, biologists from Germany and South Africa presented current research findings from the field of structural determination of proteins and macromolecular compositions. Effects on the mechanism of infection by pathogens and the structure-guided design of medical intervention options in the form of drugs and preventative measures were explained. Further opportunities for the use of biomolecules and enzyme developments, and the understanding of biological processes for new types of medical treatments were also discussed. This opened up research fields for further expansion of collaborative work.

The research field of bioeconomics is on its way to becoming a particularly important knowledge-based industry for South Africa. The country is making a concerted effort to attract initiators, companies and highly qualified scientists for research in this field. It was in this context that the symposium "Structural Biology in the BioEconomy" was held in Cape Town on 1-4 December 2012 as part of the German-South African Year of Science 2012/2013. The symposium was organised as a collaborative event between the University of Cape Town and the University of the Western Cape in South Africa, and the Ruhr University of Bochum and the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Physiology in Germany. The stated goal of the event was to strengthen co-operation between the partner countries and build on international collaboration in the field of bioeconomics.

The work in the area of structural determination of proteins and macromolecular compositions demonstrates clear implications for various fields, which were addressed by the researchers at the symposium. For example, attendees discussed the understanding of the mechanism of infection by pathogens and the structure-guided design of medical intervention options in the form of drugs and preventative measures such as vaccines and barrier creams.

The experts also looked at enzyme developments for new industrial chemicals and the development of novel herbicides and pesticides. They also discussed the use of engineered enzymes to create energy-efficient industrial processes or for use in environmental remediation work. A further key topic at the symposium was the use of biomolecules and nanotechnology for the construction of innovative "bionanomachines". Ultimately, structural biology also has an impact on our understanding of biological processes, which enables innovative strategies for medical treatment to be developed and put into practice – and this was another topic under discussion amongst the structural biologists in Cape Town.

The South African co-organiser, Prof. Trevor Sewell from the University of Cape Town, expressed his gratitude for the excellent collaboration with his German colleagues. "We are grateful for the opportunities that the German-South African Year of Science has provided and would like to thank the German and South African structural biologists who have so generously given their time to share their findings with us." The expansion of international co-operation has significantly strengthened the research field of structural biology in the bioeconomy.

To ensure that the symposium has a lasting impact, further collaborative events are planned for the future. Co-organiser Prof. Eckhard Hofmann of the Ruhr University of Bochum is also lending his support to this: "I was personally very pleased with the individual contact, above all with the young group leaders and students. We are planning to start a collaboration with a South African group on the use of algae growth, which will link their expertise with our structural biology knowledge and can also contribute to financing the group in South Africa at the same time. The research groups in South Africa are absolutely reliant on international co-operation for funding and the conference has laid the foundations for this in various areas."