This area explores how cells communicate, interact and enable complex physiological function. Research programs in this field usually blend multiple scientific disciplines, including structural biology, biophysics, cell biology, immunology and neuroscience. By uncovering molecular and cellular processes, scientists have established new paradigms in the biology of signaling and communication, such as the relationship between the structure and function of GPCRs, and the presynaptic molecular mechanisms underlying neuronal communication.
Nucleus and Gene Expression
The cell nucleus is the storage area for all genetic material and is constantly full of activity. The nucleus contains DNA, RNA and protein as well. Research in this area involves chromosomes, the cell nucleus, gene expression, and expression regulation. Expression regulation refers to the fact that not all genes are expressed in the cell at the same time. For example, consider a liver cell and a nerve cell. Although these cells have the same genome and the same DNA, they look and act completely differently.
Cell Cycle and Proliferation
Cell proliferation is the process whereby cells reproduce themselves by growing and then dividing into two equal copies. In most cases, proliferation is mediated by growth factors operating within a highly localized environment so that only those cells in the immediate vicinity are instructed to grow. To understand how growth factors control cell proliferation, we have to consider both the nature of the signalling mechanisms and how they impinge upon the cell cycle machinery that regulates cell growth and cell division. One of the most active areas of cell signalling concerns this growth factor signalling/cell cycle interface.
Developmental biology is the study of the process by which organisms grow and develop.
Modern developmental biology studies the genetic control of cell growth, differentiation and “morphogenesis,” which is the process that gives rise to tissues, organs and anatomy.
Embryology is a subfield, the study of organisms between the one-cell stage (generally, the zygote) and the end of the embryonic stage.
Embryology and developmental biology today deal with the various steps necessary for the correct and complete formation of the body of a living organism.
Neurobiology is the study of cells of the nervous system and the organization of these cells into functional circuits that process information and mediate behavior. Neurons are cells that are specialized to receive, propagate, and transmit electrochemical impulses. In the human brain alone, there are over a hundred billion neurons. Neurons are diverse with respect to morphology and function.
The study of neurobiology strives to understand how complex neural circuits are shaped and reshaped during the development of the brain and in the adult brain to generate thoughts and memories, to process sensory information and to drive behavior. These studies have direct bearing on neurological diseases such as neurodegeneration, disorders of cognitive function, epilepsy and disorders of sensory information processing, and offer insights into potential therapies.
Structural biology is the study of how biological molecules are built. Using a variety of imaging techniques, scientists view molecules in three dimensions to see how they are assembled, how they function, and how they interact. That has helped researchers understand how the thousands of different molecules in each of our cells work together to keep us healthy. Structural studies have also shown how misshapen molecules make us sick, and as a result, these studies have prompted new treatments for many diseases.
Computational Cell Biology
Computational methods help gain a global picture of biological systems by acquiring, processing, analyzing, and interpreting the multitude of interactions and dynamic events that occur in a cell at any given time.
Computational methods have permeated the field of cell biology over the last decades. Most of us now use image analysis software, structural modeling programs, and sequence alignment tools on a daily basis without appreciating that they are computational applications. Up to now, these methods have largely been the supporting cast to the established major experimental tools of cell biologists. In addition, the limited mathematical training of most cell biologists has slowed the wide acceptance of computation analysis in cell biology. However, in the new age in cell biology, computation is an equal to the more conventional molecular tools. This new era in cell biology promises to reveal entirely novel concepts of cellular organization and function that cannot be extracted using traditional cell biological approaches.
The most basic requirement for life is compartmentalization. Without membranes to keep all the necessary soluble molecular components of life in a defined area, individual cells and multicellular organisms (e.g. humans) could not exist. Biological membranes are complex superstructures that perform many tasks other than compartmentalization. They are composed of thousands of different molecules that are assembled in a carefully defined manner and to a tightly controlled makeup. Each membrane has its own characteristic composition depending on its functions. In the case of mammalian cells, the protein and lipid makeup of a plasma membrane is quite different from that of the mitochondrial and nuclear membranes.
Under Membrane Biology, interesting research topics include Complex lipid biosynthesis, metabolism and transport; fatty acid transport; membrane structure and biophysics; and membrane and receptor biology
Protein biosynthesis (Synthesis) is the process in which cells build proteins.
The term is sometimes used to refer only to protein translation but more often it refers to a multi-step process, beginning with amino acid synthesis and transcription which are then used for translation. Protein biosynthesis, although very similar, differs between prokaryotes and eukaryotes.
The events following biosynthesis include post-translational modification and protein folding. During and after synthesis, polypeptide chains often fold to assume, so called, native secondary and tertiary structures. This is known as protein folding.
Amino acids are the monomers which are polymerized to produce proteins. Amino acid synthesis is the set of biochemical processes (metabolic pathways) which build the amino acids from carbon sources like glucose. Not all amino acids may be synthesised by every organism, for example adult humans have to obtain 8 of the 20 amino acids from their diet. The amino acids are then loaded onto tRNA molecules for use in the process of translation.