Structural biologists have quietly encroached on the turf of material sciences. According to Ari Patrinos, associate director for biological and environmental research at the US Department of Energy, protein structure researchers have usurped more and more time on synchrotons in the past decade. Life sciences activity at synchrotron light sources ballooned from less than five percent of total experiments in 1990 to more than 40 percent in 2000. To be specific, of 6,000 experiments conducted at the four DOE-funded synchrotrons — the Advanced Light Source in Berkeley, the Advanced Photon Source in Argonne, the National Synchrotron Light Source in Brookhaven, and the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Laboratory — 2,400 were in the life science arena.
Material sciences experiments, which in 1990 accounted for more than 50 percent of synchrotron activity, represented less than 30 percent of work done at those sites in 2000.
To satisfy increasing demand from the bio sector, Patrinos says 15 more “structural biology stations for crystallography” are expected to open by 2003, and another four are under consideration.
Patrinos notes that between October and December 2000, scientists deposited more than 750 structures in the Protein Data Bank. If just half of all crystallography stations were dedicated to the task, 30,000 protein structures could be generated per year, he estimates.
— Adrienne Burke