NIH Record - National Institutes of Health


Neuman Lab Looks to Examine Coronavirus Inhibitors

view of room from back with 3 computer screens on a desk, with a chair facing forward. Machines lines walls on left and right and wires are running from ceiling to electrical outlets beside the computer screens.
A pre-pandemic view of Neuman’s custom-designed lab, specially calibrated for light, sound and motion: The room has two magnetic tweezers. At left, the instrumentation on the table is a magnetic tweezers that also incorporates fluorescence. The full instrument includes the electronics above the table on the rack and one of the computer monitors. The table on the right has a second magnetic tweezers on it. This one is a little more simple but all of the electronics on the right side of the room are part of the instrument, which is controlled by the second monitor on the table. This was all built by hand by the lab’s staff scientist, Dr. Yeonee Seol, who often runs both instruments simultaneously from the dual monitor command center in the middle.

Photo:  courtesy keir neuman

This article begins a special series on pandemic pivots—intramural scientists and labs that changed course to tackle Covid-related research.
Since 2006, Dr. Keir Neuman, senior investigator in NHLBI’s Laboratory of Single Molecule Biophysics, has studied enzymes—specifically ones that control or manipulate the structure of DNA. His group has had enormous success with two in particular—topoisomerases, which untwist and untangle DNA, and helicases, which unwind the double helix.

Pre-Covid and extreme telework, you could find several members of the team in the ultra-quiet darkness of a custom-designed lab, specially calibrated for light, sound and motion. Scientists who came to biology by way of physics, they might look like they are adding super-tiny Lego pieces to a desk-size 3-D puzzle. In a sense, they are.

“We’re trying to measure the motion of something that’s about 100,000 times less than the width of a human hair,” Neuman said, describing the individual molecules they’re stalking. “That’s what we’re trying to measure directly. So, this is a very precise, very stable kind of work. And it’s all done in real time. This is what’s really beautiful. We watch a single piece of DNA.”

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