Molecular Biophysics aims at a consistent experimental and theoretical description of the physical nature of biological processes.
It strives for the highest possible structural and temporal control and resolution, thereby constantly extending the experimental limits. Naturally, the field bridges different scales ranging from organisms and cells to single molecules.
However, even at the largest scales, the molecular specificity is the central theme of Molecular Biophysics as exemplified by the still young field of optogenetics. Here, the cell-type-specific expression of engineered light-sensitive ion channels enables the dissection of complex neuronal signaling events in higher organisms based on the temporal and spatial control of electrode-free neuronal excitations. This example demonstrates convincingly the extraordinary integrative power of Molecular Biophysics: a large amount of spectroscopic, crystallographic, electrophysiological and Molecular Dynamics data had been gained over decades from studies of isolated ion pumps and photosensitive membrane proteins before this knowledge could be integrated to open a new field in its own.
It is the unrestricted search for mechanistic details of molecular functions which necessarily preceded this recent progress which now promotes both fundamental research and pharmacological engineering. Starting from natural proteins that exert crucial functions in energy conversion and signaling processes in bacteria and higher organisms, Molecular Biophysics is today heavily exploiting methods of Molecular Biology in order to express engineered proteins from which the contributions of individual amino acids to biological functions can be derived. Correspondingly, scientists in Molecular Biophysics collaborate with Molecular Biologists or individual labs integrate the corresponding techniques.
The Molecular Biophysics Section of the DGfB comprises groups that work predominantly on the structure and dynamics of proteins that are involved in cytoskeletal organization, cellular and intracellular movements, biomembrane organization, transmembrane transport and signaling. Many of these studies exploit single molecule techniques in combination with FRET or force measurements or a combination of both. Where possible, experiments are paralleled by Molecular Dynamics simulations in order to obtain a full spatial temporal description of molecular mechanisms. Recently, the advent of DNA-origami, i.e., the rational production of almost arbitrarily shaped superstructures of double stranded DNA, has established a field of Molecular Biophysics that is not primarily driven by natural biological function. Instead, originally biological processes such as base pairing are exploited to obtain full spatial control over supramolecular assemblies that may combine functions of biological molecules in order to produce novel nano-electronic or nano-biochemical functionalities.