Protein Structure Initiative Center Maps Protein Universe


NIGMS Communications Office
(301) 496-7301

The billions of proteins that make up life on Earth are almost as numerous as the stars in the heavens, and mapping them is almost as difficult.

In a step toward charting the protein structure universe, scientists funded through the National Institute of General Medical Sciences’ Protein Structure Initiative have just created a map of the protein shapes that nature repeats over and over again to construct the billions of complex proteins that make up life.

The three-dimensional map shows similarities and differences among the protein shapes, letting scientists visualize the organization of all protein structures--the many possible twists, turns and shapes--and see evolutionary changes that may have occurred with time.

"This new depiction of the protein universe provides a global view of the relationships between protein shapes. It has definite potential to help us predict the structure of proteins. Such imaginative analyses of protein structures and shapes are just what we thought would come from the myriad of new structures produced by the PSI," says PSI director John Norvell, Ph.D.

The PSI is a 10-year, coordinated effort to determine 10,000 unique protein structures. Begun in 2000, PSI pilot-phase research is carried out in nine research consortia with academic, corporate and government members. The PSI will dramatically lessen the time and cost of determining three-dimensional protein structures. It will also lead to an extensive inventory of proteins, a valuable resource that will expand our knowledge of basic biology and that could be a valuable medical and pharmaceutical research tool in the future.

The protein mapping project was led by Sung-Hou Kim, Ph.D., professor of chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley, and head of the structural biology department of the physical biosciences division at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Kim is also the principal investigator of the Berkeley Structural Genomics Center, one of the nine PSI consortia.

The map, prepared by Kim and his UC Berkeley colleagues--graduate students Jingtong Hou and Gregory Sims and research associate Chao Zhang--was published recently in the online early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

NIGMS supports basic biomedical research that lays the foundation for advances in disease diagnosis, treatment and prevention. It is part of the National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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Writer: Linda Joy

To set up an interview with John Norvell, Ph.D., contact the NIGMS Office of Communications and Public Liaison at (301) 496-7301.