Marine Structural Biology Unit (Oleg Sitsel)

The Marine Structural Biology Unit focuses on characterizing marine organisms by structural biological methods such as cryoelectron tomography and single particle cryoelectron microscopy. These allow unparalleled, near-atomic level insights into the inner workings of our oceans’ inhabitants, especially when paired together with orthogonal analytical techniques such as proteomics and transcriptomics. Corals represent our primary research interest. These tiny colony-building invertebrates form the foundation of coral reefs, incredibly diverse and important ecosystems that have been estimated to house roughly a third of all marine species and provide food to half a billion people. We are interested in obtaining a structural biology perspective on how corals feed themselves, form the symbiotic relationships with the zooxanthellae that they need to thrive, as well as lose these symbionts in a stress-induced response known as coral bleaching. Gaining a better understanding of the latter process is of particular urgency, as climate change induced heatwaves have caused unprecedentedly massive coral bleachings in the last two decades, calling the future survival of coral reef ecosystems into question.