Volume 2  |  Issue 4  |  October 2020

Welcome to year 10 of the CoBRE Award!

The October 2020 issue marks two full years of publishing the CBSD Quarterly Courier. In this issue, CBSD’s new Director, Bruce Bowler, shares his vision for the Center. We highlight a core facility, welcome a new researcher to the community, and acknowledge funding recently acquired by one of our CoBRE Project Investigators. As always, we share recent publications citing the use of CoBRE resources and from CBSD affiliates. If you have suggestions for content, simply reply to this email or connect with any one of the CBSD team members

Message from the CBSD Director

Featured Core Facility: Molecular Computation Core Facility (MCCF)

Welcome: Dr. Beverly Piggott 
Dr. Serban Earns Multiple Awards for Ear, Skin Science

Recent Publications

Message from the CBSD Director

Image of CBSD Director, Bruce BowlerThese are exciting times for the Center for Biomolecular Structure and Dynamics (CBSD) as we move into the final year of support from the NIH phase II COBRE grant and await the review of our phase III COBRE proposal. 

For the past nine years, I have had the pleasure of working with Steve Sprang, our outgoing director, as he has built a vibrant and collegial community of CBSD researchers. During his tenure as CBSD director, he has used COBRE funds judiciously to hire seven talented faculty who are leading cutting-edge research programs in diverse academic departments at the University of Montana. At our recent retreat, you have had the opportunity to see some of the high impact research these faculty are engaged in. Steve also oversaw the growth and development of state-of-the-art research core facilities that are critical to the ongoing success of CBSD researchers. I feel fortunate to be able to build upon this legacy as I take over as CBSD director this year and look forward to guiding the CBSD toward a sustainable future with phase III COBRE support.  

Our phase III proposal will be reviewed in late October or early November. Our junior and senior investigators have excelled during phases I and II of COBRE support and the track record of our core facilities is strong. Our team of writers (core directors and managers), who also reviewed each other’s grant sections – much of it done over Zoom with superb coordination and support from the CBSD office staff – put together a well-written and carefully-crafted proposal. So, I am hopeful that our proposal will score well.

This year we welcome Beverly Piggott to the CBSD community. Her research will further enhance the scope of neuroscience in the Division of Biological Sciences. We got to hear about some of her research at our annual retreat. You can learn more about her research plans in this newsletter. We are very excited to have recruited Beverly to UM and look forward to helping her establish an outstanding research program at UM.

Finally, a few words about our cores – the heart of the CBSD. The Integrated Structural Biology Core is now in its new space in the basement of the ISB and will begin to provide access to the new cyroEM facility at Montana State in the coming year. Dan Decato, who just finished his PhD, will be devoting much more of his time to the Small Molecule X-ray Diffraction Core, so, we expect even greater productivity from this core. The Molecular Computation Core Facility will soon provide access to UM’s new supercomputer, the Griz Cluster, so hold on tight as we burn up the bits. The BioSpectroscopy Core Research Laboratory is strategizing to bring super-resolution imaging to the CBSD, and we look forward to the continued growth of our Mass Spectrometry Core Facility.

It’s going to be a productive year ahead and I am glad to have such a great group of researchers and staff to help us move the CBSD forward. At the annual retreat next year, we hope to be celebrating a new phase III grant and toasting Steve for his enduring impact on the CBSD.
Our structure-based design strategy of a potential peptide agonist to the IL-1 Receptor 3 protein (IL-1R3) is guided in part through electrostatic complementarity surface maps generated by Flare software (cresset-group.com). The IL1-R3 surface is colored in degrees of red denoting electrostatic clashes between IL-1R3 and the bound peptide (green and brown ribbon cartoon), and degrees of teal denoting more harmonious electrostatic interactions between IL-1R3 and the peptide agonist. 
Our structure-based design strategy of a potential peptide agonist to the IL-1 Receptor 3 protein (IL-1R3) is guided in part through electrostatic complementarity surface maps generated by Flare software (cresset-group.com). The IL1-R3 surface is colored in degrees of red denoting electrostatic clashes between IL-1R3 and the bound peptide (green and brown ribbon cartoon), and degrees of teal denoting more harmonious electrostatic interactions between IL-1R3 and the peptide agonist. 

Featured Core Facility: Molecular Computation Core Facility (MCCF)

The Molecular Computation Core Facility (MCCF), located in Skaggs 482, is a resource for the University of Montana students, staff, and faculty interested in learning and using computational chemistry tools. The MCCF director, Dr. Bowler, and manager, Dr. Holley, encourage both collaborative and independent research, with Dr. Holley on hand to help with strategy design and implementation, as well as to help with technical questions. Recently, Drs. Holley and Bowler have focused on enhancing the core’s usability by investing in graphical-based, user-friendly software, and hardware. These new investments should significantly decrease learning curves associated with older-school command line-oriented hardware and software, and hopefully make computational chemistry much more accessible. The purchase of two Macintosh iMac workstations, each installed with powerful, cutting-edge software platforms (e.g., YASARA, Spark, Flare, Forge) highlights our efforts to facilitate low-barrier entry to in silico studies. These platforms provide intuitive, graphical interfaces for molecular dynamics, small molecule docking, structure-based drug design, pharmacophore modeling, electrostatic mapping, and quantum mechanics calculations. For more details of what these tools can do for you, please contact Dave Holley (dave.holley@umontana.edu) or Bruce Bowler (bruce.bowler@umontana.edu), and they will get you started.

Welcome: Dr. Beverly Piggott

Image of Dr. Beverly PiggottDr. Beverly Piggott recently joined the neuroscience faculty at UM. Below is a brief Q & A to help you get to know Dr. Piggott. Please help us in welcoming Dr. Piggott to the CBSD community! 

Please briefly describe your research focus: 
My research seeks to understand the influence of ion fluxes or bioelectricity on brain development and brain tumor models. It’s long been appreciated that ion channels, which generate bioelectricity, drive neuronal firing and communication. Recently, it has become apparent that ion channels also play important roles in actively dividing cells in normal development and disease. My research takes advantage of the well characterized Drosophila (fruit fly) developing nervous system. This genetic model has informed the understanding of fundamental properties involved in building a brain. Therefore, flies provide a great platform to ask novel questions about bioelectricity in brain growth and disease in a well described model. We invite you to read the full Q&A on the CBSD website.
Image of Dr. Monica Serban in her lab

Dr. Serban Earns Multiple Awards for Ear, Skin Science

University of Montana associate professor, Dr. Monica Serban, is on a research roll. In recent months the UM associate professor and her team have earned three awards totaling $3.9 million in funding to study preventing hearing loss among U.S. troops, combating ear infections and creating a synthetic skin product. You can read the full press release on the UM Relations website.

Recent Publications Supported by the CBSD

The bolded names indicate University of Montana authors. View all publications citing CBSD CoBRE. If you are working on a manuscript that has used CBSD CoBRE resources, please remember to cite P20GM103546.
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We want to extend a special thank you to our newsletter contributors this month: Bruce Bowler, Dave Holley, Sara Jestrab, Beverly Piggott, and Monica Serban. CBSD would also like to thank it's newsletter content reviewers: Bruce Bowler, Sara Jestrab, and Stephen Sprang.
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