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NIGMS Structural Genomics Awards scale up protein structure studies

If genes are the recipes for life, then proteins are the culinary result--the very stuff of life. Proteins control many biological processes in organisms ranging from bacteria to plants and humans. One way to understand proteins--and perhaps find ways to control their action--is to decipher their three-dimensional structures.

The National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) has developed a major new initiative to determine the structures of thousands of proteins over the next decade. Work toward this goal will be divided into two phases: a five-year pilot stage and a subsequent five-year full-scale production phase. The initial phase begins with today's announcement of the first awards for pilot research centers in structural genomics, a new field dedicated to a broad understanding of protein structures and functions in relation to gene sequences.

NIGMS is awarding almost $30 million this year to seven projects, each totaling around $4 million for the first year. The Institute anticipates spending a total of around $150 million on these projects over five years, making NIGMS the world's single largest funder of structural genomics.

"This project can be viewed as an inventory of all the protein structure families that exist in nature," said Dr. Marvin Cassman, NIGMS Director. "We expect that this effort will yield major biological findings that will improve our understanding of health and disease."

Structural genomics, which builds on genome sequencing efforts, can teach us fundamental lessons about biology and can advance efforts in structure-based drug design. For example, the structure of a disease-related protein can provide insight into how the protein works normally and how a faulty structure can cause disease. This same structure may reveal how to design drugs to treat that disease.

Although structure determination techniques--chiefly X-ray crystallography and nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy--have
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Contact: Alisa Machalek
machalea@nigms.nih.gov
301-496-7301
NIH/National Institute of General Medical Sciences
25-Sep-2000


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