|Protein Structure Initiative Launches New Resources
for the Scientific Community
Now that the Protein Structure Initiative (PSI) has established
efficient pipelines for determining the three-dimensional shapes
of proteins, it is creating new mechanisms for sharing the resources
it has developed with the scientific community.
The 10-year PSI effort, which started in 2000 and is sponsored
by the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of General
Medical Sciences, funded a materials repository in September. Next
year, it will create an information hub where researchers can search
for and submit structural information. Meanwhile, PSI scientists
will continue to develop new methods and tools for protein structure
studies that are being commercialized by industry for mainstream
Information about protein structures can reveal the roles that
these molecules play in health and disease and may point the way
to designing new medicines.
“The first five years of the PSI were devoted to developing methods,
technologies, and pipelines to speed the structure production process
and reduce its cost,” said NIGMS Director Jeremy M. Berg, Ph.D. “The
products of these efforts have been available to the scientific
community, but the new resources should dramatically enhance accessibility.”
The Harvard Institute of Proteomics (www.hip.harvard.edu),
part of the Harvard Medical School in Boston, Mass., will operate
the PSI-Materials Repository (PSI-MR). With $5.4 million in funding
over five years and under the direction of Joshua LaBaer, M.D.,
Ph.D., the new PSI-MR will store and ship PSI-generated clones,
which can be used to make specific proteins for studies on their
structure and function. Researchers will be able to order clones
for a minimal fee to cover processing, handling, and shipping.
“Producing clones is an essential — and often time-consuming — step
in the protein structure determination process,” said PSI Director
John Norvell, Ph.D. “By centralizing the availability of these
materials, we put valuable resources at researchers’ fingertips
that can free up time to explore important scientific questions.”
To date, the PSI research centers have produced more than 100,000
clones. Norvell expects the current centers to produce a total
of 20,000 clones annually.
In fall 2007, the PSI will establish a “Knowledgebase” that will
serve as a headquarters for structural information generated by
its centers. For every protein, scientists will be able to find
the best available information about the structure and biological
function. The Knowledgebase also will offer experimental details
about each stage of the protein structure determination process,
regardless of whether the structure was successfully determined.
Information about current PSI proteins being solved will be listed.
In addition to searching these details, scientists will be able
to submit requests for protein structures they’d like the PSI to
The PSI centers will continue to deposit all solved structures
in the Protein Data Bank (www.pdb.org),
an international structural database. So far, the centers have
generated more than 1,700 structures from both simple and complex
organisms. The majority of these are novel, sharing little structural
resemblance to others in the PDB.
As the four large-scale PSI centers concentrate on churning out
structures, the six specialized centers will continue to develop
methods and tools that lead to more efficient and successful determination
of challenging protein structures, such as membrane proteins and
large protein complexes.
Many of the technologies conceptualized during the first phase
of the PSI have been commercialized and are already being used
in labs both large and small.
Such advances include:
- The miniaturization of samples needed to grow, purify, and
- Robotic systems to handle samples and image crystals;
- Enhanced software to analyze structural data and create higher-resolution
- More accurate screening processes to detect crystals suitable
for imaging; and
- Improved systems for making proteins from machines, instead
These developments have reduced the cost, time, and space needed
to carry out structural studies, as well as improved the generation
and analysis of quality data.
To arrange an interview with Jeremy M. Berg, Ph.D., or John Norvell,
Ph.D., contact the NIGMS Office of Communications and Public Liaison
More information about the PSI is available at http://www.nigms.nih.gov/Initiatives/PSI/.
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