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Science and crystallography in Novosibirsk

[Novosibirsk] Students and mentors from Research Institutes in Novosibirsk.

The Inst. of Science of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Science (RAS) in Novosibirsk continues to pursue world-class science. Visits to four of the Institutes (Nuclear Physics, Solid State Physics, Bioorganic Chemistry, Microbiology and Cytology) revealed the presence of cutting edge research involving a team of local scientists working closely with outside collaborators around the globe. The Nuclear Physics Inst., the largest Institute of the RAS, houses one of the oldest synchrotron facilities in the world. They manufacture and market detectors, insertion and storage devices that are in use at SPring 8, the Photon Factory, Argonne and CHESS. B.P. Tolochko, the head of the Synchrotron Radiation Instrument Lab, described the 3D detectors as being tailored to applications on powder diffraction and materials studies that require higher sensitivity than other detectors can deliver. They are exploring the potential of bringing the same kind of sensitivity to macromolecular applications. Among ongoing studies in the Institute is the detection of the formation of diamond in explosive chamber reactions at 20 to 30 k volts. Among their consultants and collaborator are M. Kovalchuk (Moscow), Y Amemya (Japan) and J. Hendrix (Germany).

At the Solid State Inst., which was revitalized by Vladimir Boldyreva in the 1960’s, new organic compounds are extracted from plants using environmentally friendly and economically advantageous techniques. A major focus is the extraction of natural steroids that are nutrients and growth promoters for livestock. [One of Dorothy Hodgkin’s first steroid structures was such a plant extract with estrogenic properties.] The compounds isolated from seeds, flowers, stalks, and roots are being partially characterized by HPLC. There is the potential to extend analysis to the determination of the biological properties of the new compounds. Newly isolated and identified steroids are potential candidates for drug development or as starting materials for partial synthesis of steroid hormones. The lab of E. Boldyreva, at the U. of Novosibirsk, is fully equipped with instruments to measure the effect of pressure, temperature and atmospheric changes on single crystals and powders of organic and bioorganic materials. Solid state Raman, infrared, Mass Spectroscopic and NMR capabilities exist in other institutions of the Academy. The various institutes are interconnected by meandering paths through majestic forests of evergreens and white bark birch trees.

The Inst. of Bioorganic Chemistry has a major program in antisense technology, in studies of tRNA synthetases, and in comparative structural and functional analysis of human and bacterial ribosomes. Investigators there are isolating large quantities of the human ribosome and supply samples to D. Moras in France for crystallization.

Half of the 900 scientists of the Inst. of Microbiology and Cytology are engaged in a broad spectrum of Bioinformatics projects including analysis of 35 protein networks, (HSP-70’s, redox regulators, and signaling proteins), RNA folding and nanotechnological design, covariance and cluster analysis of protein sequences, substituent identification and characterization by combining comparative analyses, structure and dynamic calculations, and elaboration of a mammoth database of transcriptional regulatory regions. There are currently 1460 genes, 2242 regulators, 4955 publications, and 6868 transcriptions factors and binding sites in the largest curated database of its kind in the world that they are developing. [There is a January 2002 publication in Nucleic Acid Research describing this.]

In 2001, the Institute hosted a major international conference on Bioinformatics. There is great potential for combining the wealth of information on the functions and interactions of proteins contained in the databank and the structure data present in the PDB and CSD databases. The Internet could bring together laboratories from all over the world to develop innovative new research initiatives.

E. and V. Boldyreva, a father-daughter team of solid-state chemists have established a Center of Molecular Design and Ecologically Safe Technology in Novosibirsk that has attracted support from international sources. The many excellent Academy of Science institutes and the U. of Novosibirsk combine to give this imaginative program truly interdisciplinary character. The diverse backgrounds and insatiable curiosity of the Boldyreva’s are the driving forces that make it work. If you’re looking for collaboration in the area of solid state physics, Novosibirsk might suit your needs.

William L. Duax