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'Elves' makes protein crystallography easier

Berkeley - Scientists are finding a computer program called Elves to be a nearly magical solution to the tedious and time-consuming task of determining the 3-D shape of proteins - a major focus of cutting-edge proteomics today - from X-ray diffraction data.

According to Elves developer James Holton, who recently received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley, researchers can unleash Elves on a set of X-ray diffraction data and go on to other things - or take a nap - while the computer does the hard work and spits out a protein structure. "This is the first time anyone has reported a computer generating a protein structure by itself," he said.

"By automating X-ray crystallography, Elves dramatically speeds the process and reduces errors," added Thomas Alber, professor of molecular and cell biology at UC Berkeley. "In a recent record case, James used it to solve a new structure in 19 minutes, which is fast compared to a typical time of days to weeks."

Holton and Alber present details of Elves in a paper to be published this week in the Online Early Edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Alber is a member of the California Institute for Quantitative Biomedical Research (QB3), a cooperative effort among UC Berkeley, UC San Francisco and UC Santa Cruz to leverage strengths in the physical and biological sciences and engineering to improve human health and the environment.

Structural information about proteins is critical to understanding how proteins work, and, for drug developers, how to design drugs. Facilities like the Advanced Light Source at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) make it easy and quick to obtain X-ray diffraction pictures of protein crystals.

But converting hundreds of X-ray diffraction images - each a 37 megapixel digital photo consisting of a pattern of bright spots - into a three-dimensional layout of a protein requires tweaking and twiddling programs w
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Contact: Robert Sanders
rls@pa.urel.berkeley.edu
510-643-6998
University of California - Berkeley
27-Jan-2004


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