We read with interest the article describing the initiative by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) to assemble structural information on at least 10,000 proteins over the next five years (Nature 400, 494; 1999). What this otherwise informative article did not make clear was the role of other US government partners in supporting the basic structural-biology infrastructure upon which this initiative is built — particularly the Offices of Biological and Environmental Research and Basic Energy Sciences of the Department of Energy (DOE), and the National Science Foundation (NSF).
Additionally, the DOE has played a major role in developing structural genomics in the United States. Over the past decade the National Institutes of Health (NIH), NSF and DOE have substantially increased access to synchrotron light sources for protein crystallography through a series of initiatives. The agencies are implementing further improvements at the synchrotrons that will provide the capacity needed to reach the ambitious goals of the Protein Structure Initiative (PSI). The DOE is supporting structural genomics efforts at Brookhaven, Los Alamos and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories. In January 1998, the DOE helped to organize a meeting at Argonne National Laboratory which triggered subsequent meetings at NIH and elsewhere that resulted in the PSI.
All three agencies support the Protein Data Bank, which is managed by the Research Consortium for Structural Bio- informatics to provide access to the more than 10,000 known protein structures. The addition of 10,000 new structures through the PSI will provide the information needed to define the several thousand key protein folds that, in turn, should enable classification of proteins into functional categories. The contributions of each of these agencies (and those of several non-federal organizations) will be needed to enable the NIGMS initiative to succeed.