How essential is biophysics Biophysics revealed the structure of DNA What are the applications? Why is biophysics important right now?
to progress in biology? Experiments in the 1940s showed Biophysics is a wellspring of innovation for our high-tech economy. Th e applications of that genes are made of a simple Society is facing physical and biological problems of global proportions. How will we biophysics depend on society’s needs. In the 20th century, great progress was made in continue to get suﬃ cient energy? How can we feed the world’s population? How do we Biophysics discovers how atoms are arranged to work chemical: DNA. How such a simple treating disease. Biophysics helped create powerful vaccines against infectious diseases. remediate global warming? How do we preserve biological diversity? How do we secure in DNA and proteins. chemical could be the molecule of It provided new insights into diseases of metabolism, such as diabetes. And biophys- clean and plentiful water? Th ese are crises that require scientiﬁ c insight and innovation. Protein molecules perform the body’s chemical reac- inheritance remained a mystery un- ics provided both the tools and the understanding for treating the diseases of growth Biophysics provides that insight and technologies for meeting these challenges, based on tions. Th ey push and pull in the muscles that move til biophysicists discovered the DNA known as cancers. Today we are learning more about the biology of health and society is the principles of physics and the mechanisms of biology. your limbs. Proteins make the parts of your eyes, ears, double helix in 1953. deeply concerned about the health of our planet. Biophysical methods are increasingly nose, and skin that sense your environment. Th ey turn used to serve everyday needs, from forensic science to bioremediation. Biophysics discovers how to food into energy and light into vision. Th ey provide Th e structure of DNA was a great modify microorganisms for immunity to illness. Proteins repair what is bro- watershed. It showed how simple Biophysics gives us medical imaging biofuel (replacing gasoline ken inside of cells, and regulate growth. Th ey ﬁ re the variations on a single chemical could Biophysicists Maurice Wilkins (not pictured), James Watson, technologies including MRI, CAT scans, and diesel fuel) and bioelectri- electrical signals in your brain. Th ey read the DNA generate unique individuals and per- Francis Crick (above) and Rosa- PET scans, and sonograms for diagnos- city (replacing petroleum blueprints in your body and copy the DNA for fu- petuate their species. lind Franklin (right) discovered ing diseases. products and coal for produc- ture generations. the structure of DNA. ing electricity). Biophysics showed how DNA serves It provides the life-saving treatment Biophysicists are discovering how proteins work. Th ese as the book of life. Inside of cells, genes are opened, closed, methods of kidney dialysis, radiation Biophysics discovers the biolog- mysteries are solved part by part. To learn how a car works, read, translated, and copied, just like books. Th e transla- Photos courtesy of Cold Spring therapy, cardiac deﬁ brillators, and pace- U.S. Department of Energy Genome Programs, http://genomics.energy.gov. ical cycles of heat, light, water, you ﬁ rst need to know how the parts ﬁ t together. Now, tion leads from DNA to proteins, the molecular machinery Harbor Laboratory Archives. © medmovie. makers. Batches of biofuel microbes are being tested. carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, heat, thanks to biophysics, we know exactly where the thousands of life. Th e implantable cardiac deﬁ brillator saves lives. and organisms throughout of atoms are located in more than 50,000 diﬀ erent pro- During the 2000s, biophysical inventions decoded all the genes in a human being. Biophysicists invented instruments for our planet. teins. Each year, over a million scientists and students from All the genes of nearly 200 diﬀ erent species, and some genes from more than 100,000 detecting, purifying, imaging, and ma- all over the world, from physicists to medical practitioners, other species have been determined. Biophysicists analyze those genes to learn how nipulating chemicals and materials. Biophysics harnesses microor- use these protein structures for discovering how biological organisms are related, how ganisms to clean our water and machines work, in health and also in diseases. individuals diﬀ er, and how Advanced biophysical research instru- to produce lifesaving drugs. organisms evolved. ments are the daily workhorses of drug development in the world’s pharmaceu- tical and biotechnology industries. Since the 1970s, more than 1500 biotechnol- ogy companies, employing 200,000 U.S. Department of Energy Genome Programs, http://genomics.energy.gov. people, have earned more than $60 bil- Biophysics determines the abundance of photosynthetic microbes and Biophysics pushes Variations in proteins make Discoveries about lion per year. plants in the global biosphere. back barriers that people respond to drugs differently. DNA and proteins once seemed Understanding these differences opens fuel progress in Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Gene-chips are made to test the functions of insurmountable. new possibilities in drug design, preventing and thousands of genes in one experiment. diagnosis, and disease control. Soon, curing disease. Biophysics applies the power medicines will be tailored to each of physics, chemistry, and math to individual patient’s propensity for Th is fragment of DNA is being opened, read and understanding health, preventing U.S. Department of Energy Genome Programs, http://genomics.energy.gov. Molecules for photosynthesis (green) and for fuel are ﬂ uorescently side effects. transcribed by a protein Courtesy of FONAR Corporation. labelled in this cross-section of a stalk. (the light-colored structure MRI scans help diagnose dis- disease, and inventing cures. Image by David S. Goodsell, RCSB Protein Data Bank. that surrounds it). Gnatt et al, SCIENCE v 292, 1876, 2001. ease without surgery.
11400RockvillePike,Suite800,Rockville,Maryland20852 What do biophysicists study? Biophysics is a bridge between All of biology is fair game. biology and physics. Biophysicists study life at every level, What Is Biophysics? Biology studies life in its variety and complexity. It describes how organisms go about from atoms and molecules to cells, or- getting food, communicating, sensing the environment, and reproducing. On the oth- ganisms, and environments. As inno- er hand, physics looks for mathematical laws of nature and makes detailed predictions vations come out of physics and biol- about the forces that drive physical systems. Spanning the distance between the com- ogy labs, biophysicists ﬁ nd new areas plexity of life and the simplicity of physical laws is the challenge of biophysics. Looking to explore where they can apply their for the patterns in life and analyzing them with math and physics is a powerful way to expertise, create new tools, and learn gain insights. new things. Th e work always aims to ﬁ nd out how biological systems work. Biophysicists ask questions, such as: Biophysicist Luis Marky loads his diﬀ erential scanning calorimetry instrument. Biophysics looks for How do protein machines work? Even though they are millions of times smaller principles that describe Yang, A., Bahar, I. and Widom, M., Biophysical Journal, Volume 96, Issue 11, 4438-4448, 3 June 2000. than everyday machines, molecular machines E:
work on the same principles. Th ey use energy [email protected] patterns. If the Th e natural symmetries of viral shell molecules contribute to their strength and ﬂ exibility. Th ese properties are vital to their to do work. Th e kinesin machine shown here life cycles, and also provide principles for devising strong, ﬂ ex- is carrying a load as it walks along a track. principles are ible materials for manufacture. Biophysics reveals how each step is powered Robert Loe and Alain Viel, Harvard University, John Liebler, powerful, they make XVIVO, LCC. forward. Kinesin protein (center) walking along a protein detailed predictions track (bottom diagonal) carrying a load (large How do systems of nerve cells communi- blue sphere). cate? Biophysicists invented colored protein that can be tested. tags for the chemicals used by cells. Each W: W: cell takes on a diﬀ erent color as it uses the Th e patterns and quantities in an electrocardiogram describe www.biophysics.org tagged chemicals, making it possible to trace the functioning of the human heart. its many pathways.
How do proteins pack DNA into virus- es? How do viruses invade cells? How do plants harness sunlight to make food? Shining X-rays on protein creates a diﬀ raction pattern revealing its structure (cover image). Th is false-color pattern of a protein from peas was creat- ed using data from the world’s ﬁ rst dedicated high Image by Tamily Weissman, Harvard University. Th e Brainbow energy synchrotron, the Synchrotron Radiation mouse was produced by Livet J, Weissman TA, Kang H, Draft Biophysics studies life at Source. Biophysicists analyze diﬀ raction patterns RW, Lu J, Bennis RA, Sanes JR, Lichtman JW. Nature (2007) to determine the positions of the atoms in proteins, 450:56-62. every level, from atoms DNA and other important molecules. Understand- Each nerve cell takes on an individual color, de- ing the atomic structures is an important step to- pending on its response to engineered biomol- and molecules to cells, ward understanding how molecules work together ecules, allowing individual nerve pathways of Biophysical Society to sustain life. communications to be traced. organisms, and environments. Daresbury Laboratory, UK. © STFC.