Crystallography Gets Support from United Nations, NIGMS

Laue X-ray diffraction pattern of a single crystal of a dimeric hemoglobin taken at the BioCARS structural biology research center. Credit: Vukica Srajer, BioCARS/University of Chicago, and William Royer, Jr., University of Massachusetts Medical School
Laue X-ray diffraction pattern of a single crystal of a dimeric hemoglobin taken at the BioCARS structural biology research center. Credit: Vukica Srajer, BioCARS/University of Chicago, and William Royer, Jr., University of Massachusetts Medical School

As NIH Director Francis Collins recently noted on his blog, this year marks the 100th anniversary of the first experiment demonstrating that X-rays are diffracted by crystals. Two years later, this discovery was recognized with a Nobel Prize in physics. For this and other reasons, the United Nations has designated 2014 as the International Year of Crystallography Exit icon. The designation offers an opportunity for organizations worldwide to increase public awareness of the field and promote access to crystallographic knowledge and activities.

X-ray crystallography is central to many areas of basic biomedical research, and NIGMS supports a number of major crystallographic efforts that may be of interest and use to you.

Since 2000, our Protein Structure Initiative (PSI) has undertaken the high-throughput determination of protein structures by crystallography and NMR methods, resulting in the deposition in the public Protein Data Bank Exit icon of more than 5,000 macromolecular structures. The initiative’s current phase focuses on the determination of biologically relevant and important structures. Members of the scientific community can nominate proteins Exit icon for structure determination, order protein plasmids and empty vectors Exit icon, and access PSI data and other resources Exit icon. Active PSI funding opportunities solicit applications for Technology Development for High-Throughput Structural Biology Research (R01) and Technology Development for Protein Modeling (R01).

We also have been involved in supporting the construction, upgrade and maintenance of synchrotron beamline stations for X-ray crystallographic studies. These activities include a state-of-the-art facility Exit icon at the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Laboratory, which we established in partnership with the National Cancer Institute. Our support of synchrotron facilities and of crystallographic technology development has improved access for NIH grantees and other users and increased the capacity for crystallographic data collection.

In addition, we now oversee the Biomedical Technology Research Centers, several of which focus on developing and applying innovative crystallography techniques. These resource centers provide broad access to instruments, methods, software, expertise and hands-on training.

I look forward to sharing more details about the International Year of Crystallography as activities get under way.

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