A former employee who allegedly destroyed US$500,000 worth of protein crystal samples at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in Menlo Park, California, was arrested and charged last week with wilfully ruining government property.

Silvya Oommachen, until July a research associate at SLAC's Joint Center for Structural Genomics (JCSG), removed 4,000–5,000 protein crystals from three SLAC freezers at some point between 17 and 20 July, according to an FBI affidavit.

The now-useless crystals formed part of the Protein Structure Initiative, a federally funded project to expedite the discovery of atomic-level protein structures. JCSG director Ian Wilson estimates that his research team now faces a "two- to three-month setback" to remake the protein crystals that had not yet been analysed.