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The Astbury Centre for Structural Molecular Biology

Introduction and Welcome from the Director

Image of Professor Adam Nelson

The Astbury Centre for Structural Molecular Biology (ACSMB) is an interdisciplinary research centre of the University of Leeds. It was founded to carry out international quality research in all aspects of structural molecular biology. ACSMB brings together over fifty academic staff from four faculties - from biological sciences, physical sciences (chemistry and physics), engineering and medicine - who share the common goal of understanding life in atomic detail. ACSMB is named after W.T.Astbury, a biophysicist who laid many of the foundations of the field during a long research career at the University of Leeds (1928-1961). It was Astbury who originally identified the two major recurring patterns of protein structure (alpha and beta), took the first fibre diffraction pictures of DNA (in 1938) and is widely credited with the definition of the field of molecular biology.


The ACSMB today continues this tradition and focuses on understanding the relationship between the structure and the function of biological macromolecules, both in vitro and in cells. ACSMB is a major Centre for research and training in structural molecular biology in its broadest sense, and is host to a Wellcome Trust-funded 4-year PhD programme and a BBSRC-funded PhD programme. The Centre has outstanding research infrastructure including all of the major techniques for structural molecular biology: X-ray diffraction, nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, electron microscopy and mass spectrometry. The Centre's expertise in structural biology is complemented by expertise in chemical biology, molecular biophysics and bionanoscience. Together these approaches are combined with analyses of biological function with the ultimate aim of understanding the molecular basis of biological mechanisms in living cells. Our members address major questions associated with biological mechanisms in areas as diverse as membrane proteins; protein folding and assembly; viruses; and motor proteins.

The Centre is formally constituted within the University and is run by an executive commitee the minutes of whose meeting are published on this web site for Leeds users. The Centre is advised by an outstanding external Scientific Advisory Board.

Structural molecular biology plays a pivotal role in modern biology, both in the fundamental understanding of living things and in the design of new treatments for disease. For instance, new drugs are frequently designed by analysing the molecular structures of the proteins they target, and ACSMB has collaborative links with pharmaceutical companies to carry out such work. The original observation by Astbury of transitions in fibrous proteins between alpha and beta forms remains relevant today since devastating diseases such as Alzheimer's, BSE and CJD are linked to such transitions in brain proteins. In the pages that follow, you will find detailed descriptions of the work of ACSMB research groups, as well as beautiful images of protein structures that still excite even the experienced scientists who work with them.

If you would like more information about the centre, please browse our web site and read our Annual Reports, or email me at the address below. To download the Astbury logo, please click here.

Adam Nelson
Professor of Chemical Biology
Director, Astbury Centre