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Protein Structure Initiative Launches Resources for the Scientific Community


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Protein Structure Initiative (PSI) has announced that it is creating 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 methods and tools for protein structure studies that are being commercialized by industry for mainstream use. 

Information about protein structures can reveal the roles that these molecules play in health and disease and may point the way to designing 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."  

PSI-Materials Repository

The Harvard Institute of Proteomics, 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 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."

Knowledgebase

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.

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 determine.

The PSI centers will continue to deposit all solved structures in the Protein Data Bank.

So far, the centers have generated 1,700 structures from both simple and complex organisms.

Technology Development

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 efficient 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 crystallize proteins;

- Robotic systems to handle samples and image crystals;

- Software to analyze structural data and create higher-resolution images;

- Accurate screening processes to detect crystals suitable for imaging; and

- Improved systems for making proteins from machines, instead of cells.

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