Wednesday, 31 October 2012 13:48

Structural Biology for the Bioeconomy: Infectious Diseases and Biotechnology

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SBBE 2012

A conference on “Structural Biology for the Bioeconomy: Infectious Diseases and Biotechnology” will be held at the University of Cape Town from 1 December to 2012 to 4 December 2012. The conference will immediately precede the annual conference of the Microscopy Society of Southern Africa (4-7 December 2012) and will be held in the same venue on the University of Cape Town campus.  The conference website is and more about the organisers can be found here:



Work in the field of structure determination of protein and macromolecular complexes has made a real and significant impact on:

  • The understanding of the mechanism of infection by pathogens
  • The design of interventions in the form of drugs
  • The design of preventative measures such as vaccines, barrier creams etc.
  • The design of enzymes to make new industrial chemicals
  • The design of novel herbicides and pesticides
  • The design of energy efficient industrial processes exploiting engineered enzymes
  • The use of engineered enzymes for environmental remediation
  • The use of biomolecules to make novel “bionanomachines”
  • The understanding of biological events so that novel strategies for intervention in human health can be designed and produced or exploited to make new devices.

The conference will focus on the above areas and will highlight structural biology and biophysics research of direct economic benefit. The purpose of the meeting would thus be to:

  • further understanding of the interaction between Structural Biology and Biophysics,
  • promote awareness and development of Structural and Biophysics and associated techniques at all levels in the Southern African region,
  • further the exchange of knowledge w.r.t the latest research, results, techniques, and ideas in all areas of Structural Biology and Biophysics,
  • showcase the rapidly emerging South African research in Structural Biology and Biophysics and the increasing numbers of excellent African researchers in this area,
  • enable the South African researchers and students to hear presentations of work by international counterparts,
  • network and explore the possibilities of both local and international collaborations/partnerships, as well as interdisciplinary interactions,
  • foster the educational and research potential of students interested in pursuing Structural Biology and/or Biophysics as a career or major research tool, particularly those young researchers from previously disadvantaged communities

Themed areas of focus:
The conference will focus on the following 3 themes:



  • BioEconomy: By focusing on industrial enzymes as well as their optimization with respect to their production, their thermal and chemical stabilization as well as their catalytic efficiency. These are classical areas of biotechnology, synthetic biology and nano-technology resulting in the large scale production of modified enzymes world-wide to produce a large array of chemicals and biological products under mild conditions. The rate of developing new products – both the enzymes themselves as well as commercial products obtained by their use – is particularly high in this area of research
  • Health Innovation: By addressing and analyzing molecular processes underlying infectious diseases. By investigating interacting proteins or enzymes critical to pathogenesis, the information obtained will directly flow into the generation of new drugs to eradicate these diseases. In the case of South Africa tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS result in particularly heavy burden on the population though other infectious diseases such as cholera and bacterial meningitis are also prevalent.
  • Human Capital Development: By providing access to excellent local and international researchers, postgraduate students will be exposed to cutting-edge research. Through personal contacts students and supervisors will be able to identify new exchange laboratories, allowing them to partly train in the partner country providing them with first-hand experience of methodologies and techniques not normally available to them.

Involvement of Young Scientists
Both the number and the size of research groups in Structural Biology are growing steadily in South Africa reflecting the growing interest and participation of postgraduate students at all levels in this discipline. In addition, interest in structural biological techniques and analyses is growing in allied specializations in biotechnology and the health sector, significantly increasing the pool of young scientists in from South Africa that will benefit from this three-day conference. We hope to attract around 60 young scientists and students from the various South African universities and from the CSIR.

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