BER Structural Biology and Imaging Resources
Synchrotron, Neutron, and Cryo-EM
U.S. Department of Energy | Office of Science | Office of Biological and Environmental Research

About the DOE Office of Biological and Environmental Research

The Biological and Environmental Research (BER) program advances fundamental research and scientific user facilities to support Department of Energy (DOE) missions in scientific discovery and innovation, energy security, and environmental responsibility.

Biological and environmental interactions across scales. Understanding how complex biological and environmental systems will respond to and affect critical Earth system processes requires measuring, simulating, and integrating biological, chemical, and physical components and their interactions across vast spatial and temporal scales—from subnanometers to kilometers and nanoseconds to millennia. (Figure from U.S. DOE. 2015. Office of Biological and Environmental Research Molecular Science Challenges; Workshop Report, DOE/SC-0172. U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science.)

BER seeks to understand the biological, biogeochemical, and physical principles needed to predict a continuum of processes occurring across scales, from molecular and genomics-controlled mechanisms at the smallest scales to environmental and Earth system change at the largest scales. Starting with the genetic potential encoded by organisms’ genomes, BER research aims to define the principles underlying the systems biology of plants and microbes as they respond to and modify their environments. Knowledge of these principles is underpinning renewable energy innovations and deeper insights into natural environmental processes. BER also advances understanding of how the Earth’s dynamic, physical, and biogeochemical systems (atmosphere, land, oceans, sea ice, and subsurface) interact and affect future climate and environmental change. This research improves climate model predictions and provides valuable information for energy and resource planning.

Across the DOE complex is an ever-expanding portfolio of research technologies, methodologies, and instruments. These resources, available at synchrotron and neutron national user facilities operated by DOE’s Office of Basic Energy Sciences, can enable critical experiments needed to understand processes of importance to BER–funded investigators and centers. The spatial and temporal resolutions available from neutron and photon beams enable unprecedented characterization and imaging of interactions among plants, microbes, and the environment. The space and time scales studied range from subnanometer to millimeters and from femtoseconds to seconds. The capabilities to provide molecular fingerprints and mechanistic and dynamic understanding of in situ ecosystem processes impact various BER research interest areas.

As such, BER has established a Biomolecular Characterization and Imaging Science portfolio within its Biological Systems Science Division (BSSD). The goal is to improve or develop new multifunctional, multiscale imaging and measurement technologies that enable visualization of the spatiotemporal and functional relationships among biomolecules, cellular compartments, and higher-order organization of biological systems.

About BER’s Biomolecular Characterization and Imaging Science Portfolio

BER BSSD supports the development of bioimaging tools, methods, and technologies and invests in related infrastructure and resources. This support includes developing technologies for structural biology and biological imaging at subnanometer to micrometer resolution, as well as approaches for real-time, nondestructive visualization of living systems.

BSSD seeks to satisfy unmet needs across all its portfolio elements by aligning imaging and structural biology with genomic science capabilities and by leveraging DOE’s unique beamline and computational infrastructure. In light of these priorities, BSSD supports programs that leverage both the spatial and temporal resolutions available from neutron, photon, and electron beams, as well as the advantages offered by direct in situ visualization of living tissues through light, electron, and quantum science–enabled microscopy.

A suite of experimental structural biology research technologies, methodologies, and instruments are supported at the DOE synchrotron and neutron user facilities. Important recent additions to these capabilities are cryogenic electron microscopy and tomography, technologies that offer important complementary high-resolution and three-dimensional options for imaging and structural characterization of biological samples. In addition to these capabilities, BSSD also supports expertise at these facilities to aid BER scientists in using these tools to advance their research.