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Structural Proteomics Meeting Raises Questions about Data Sharing

WARRENTON, Va., April 5 – Representatives of publicly-funded structural proteomics efforts from around the world are meeting in Virginia this week to begin working on policies regarding what data should be made freely available and how the data should be released.

“Although it’s early, we should get things set up now, because otherwise it's too late,” John Moult of the University of Maryland’s Center for Advanced Research in Biotechnology said Wednesday at the Second International Structural Genomics Meeting, sponsored by the National Institutes of Health.

So far, discussions have brought to light a split between the Americans’ support for the open exchange of information and the European and Asian position that organizations should selectively share data.

The meeting follows on the heels of the Human Proteome Organization meeting, which brought together representatives of public and private proteomics efforts to begin discussing a role for the group, although few concrete decisions were made by the close of the conference on Wednesday.

Speaking in support of clearly defined standards, Moult said the structural proteomics group should take its direction from the early days of the Human Genome Project and act quickly to establish policies on data availability.

But questions regarding how information should be released, how to avoid duplication of targets, and what criteria should define “finished” structures for deposition in the Protein Data Bank, were met with vigorous debate.

“Let's keep calm and not shout at each other and call me a 'consumer' as happened last year,” requested Moult, as the discussion intensified.

Tom Terwilliger of Los Alamos National Laboratory advocated the establishment of a formal international structural genomics organization, which could include both public and private efforts. 

“The organization would develop standards and policies, promote cooperation, sponsor these meetings, and promote the deposition of coordinates, raw data and other information into the Protein Data Bank,” Terwilliger said.

While US agency representatives seemed committed to the idea of open data exchange, representatives from European and Asian governments were more wary.

Japanese representative Toichi Sakata said that data release policies must take into account differences in the various countries' patent systems.

“Japan opposes timing requirements for data release, especially at this early stage of structural genomics,” he said.

And Barbara Skene of the United Kingdom's Wellcome Trust also took a more cautious line than her American counterparts.

“We have to decide where we draw the line between openness and cooperation, and where we begin to compete,” Skene said.

The meeting will continue through Friday.

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