The “Hamburg Advanced Research Centre for Bioorganic Chemistry”, HARBOR for short, is a new research building on the Bahrenfeld Campus. The project has sprung directly from the research in the Hamburg Centre for Ultrafast Imaging and it will close the present gap between the excellent physics and excellent life science research.
In 2016, the Joint Science Conference of the Federal Government and its individual states adopted the recommendation of the Science Council and added the project to its funding program for 2017. The Federal Government and the City of Hamburg are contributing € 33 million to the CUI building, the interior fitting-out and the large instruments. “We now have the chance to set up a globally leading center for the study of the time-dependent properties of biological molecular machines,” Professor Arwen Pearson says, who is an expert on time-resolved structural biology and the project leader. HARBOR establishes an inter-disciplinary center for nanophysics, chemistry and structural biology on the Bahrenfeld Campus.
State-of-the-art premises and expertise
The aim is to create state-of-the-art premises and the necessary expertise in bio-(in)organic chemistry, photochemistry, physical biochemistry and computer-backed modelling and simulation. This will enable the scientists to will develop light-based methods for the targeted triggering and control of processes in biological macromolecules in order to make these processes visible for study.
To explain: in order to generate a clear picture, the reactions in time-resolved experiments need to be triggered in such a way that all molecules to be examined react at the same time. In fast experiments, less than one millisecond, this can really only be practically achieved with light. Yet by their nature, only very few biological macromolecules react to light. Pearson: “This challenge of reaction initiation has meant the majority of interesting molecular biological systems were almost impossible to study using fast time-resolved structural experiments.” HARBOR will pick up this challenge and develop the needed photochemical “tools”, as well as provide facilities to help researchers characterize their systems and determine the optimal experimental set-up to address their scientific question.
With nearly 3,000 square meters of floor space, the new building offers accommodation for around 130 people. Some 120 scientists will carry out their research in working groups focused on Spectroscopy and Imaging, Structural Molecular Biology, Synthetic Organic Chemistry and Theory. The following focal points have been defined:
- The time-resolved study of biomolecular systems requires universally deployable triggers which can initiate biological processes at a defined point in time. One major goal of the research is therefore the development and application of non-system specific photocages.
- The modelling of biomolecular processes with atomic resolution and high time-resolution is an ongoing challenge for numeric simulations. HARBOR research groups will therefore work on the development of numeric tools, to study the molecular dynamics of biological systems in experiments and computer simulations.
- Initially the structural biology research working group will focus on two key questions in biochemistry: How membrane proteins pass on signals and molecules across the cellular membrane and how protein dynamics regulate enzyme function.
HARBOR will work closely with the research institutions on site as well as the national and international users of the facilities.
The offices and conference rooms of the scientists are distributed over three floors; 1,300 square meters of laboratory space are available on the ground floor and the first floor.
The following equipment will be available in the facility: super-resolution microscopy, X-ray crystallography, NMR, high-resolution mass spectrometry, flash photolysis and time-resolved spectroscopy as well as a computing cluster for molecular simulations.
The building was erected directly next to the Center for Hybrid Nanostructures (CHYN) by Sprinkenhof GmbH based on drawings by the architects Nickl & Partner.