The Partnership for Structural Biology is launched today in Grenoble


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Four prestigious scientific laboratories with a common site in Grenoble (France) sign today the Partnership for Structural Biology (PSB), a unique integrated programme and resource pool in structural genomics. The PSB will include the ESRF1, the Europe's foremost synchrotron X-ray source, the ILL2, the world's leading neutron source, the Grenoble Outstation of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory3, and the IBS4, one of France's premier structural biology institutes. The four partners will bring together their expertise in state-of-the-art molecular biology in order to tackle fundamental research problems related to human health.

Much of the drive of today's research in biology is directed towards a better understanding and treatment of human diseases. The Human Genome Project has produced an enormous body of information about the sequence of the human genome. However, detailed information on the structure, function and interaction of the tens of thousands of proteins encoded by this genome is required in order to fully exploit this new panoply of data for novel disease treatments. In particular, knowledge of the three-dimensional structures of key human or human pathogens proteins is vital for speeding up the difficult task of discovering new antibiotics or anti-cancer drugs.

This coalition of four major research institutes forming the PSB and the resource pool that they together provide is unique in the world. X-ray crystallography at third-generation synchrotron sources, such as the ESRF, is the key technique that will build the database of three-dimensional information on protein structure. Nuclear magnetic resonance techniques and neutron scattering constitute further important and complementary structure determination tools.

As well as the four founding Partners, the PSB is enthusiastic to involve industrial and other interested European academic parties in its initiative. Individual companies, both established pharmaceutical enterprises and promising start-up biotechnology companies are already showing strong interest in joining the Partnership as Associate Members and in contributing to its activities and developments. A close interaction between academic and commercial concerns is essential for the rapid development of fundamental discoveries into new medicines.

1 The European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) is constituted as a French Société Civile and is mandated by its twelve Member countries to operate, maintain and develop a synchrotron radiation source and associated instruments. Operating the most powerful third generation synchrotron radiation source in Europe, it is an essential element in any initiative requiring high-throughput structure determination. The elements of the ESRF's public science programme are peer-reviewed and the results made freely available in the public domain. The ESRF has agreed to develop a long term programme in structural genomics as part of its overall peer-reviewed science programme (in addition to its current programme in protein crystallography) and to commit resources both to build up the necessary infrastructure and to construct an insertion-device based beamline complex to enable the long-term programme to be pursued.

2 The Institut Laue-Langevin (ILL) is constituted as a French Société Civile and is mandated by its four Associates to operate, maintain and develop a high-flux neutron source, to devise and execute programmes of scientific research, and to provide the facilities necessary for their execution. Operating the world's leading neutron source, the ILL has contributed to important advances in the life sciences through the use of a wide range of innovative instruments. These include both diffractometers for structural studies and spectrometers for studies of dynamics. The ILL plans to expand its activity in this field through the creation of a strong in-house structural biology programme, including upgrades of instruments and infrastructure. In this context the ILL has set up, in collaboration with the EMBL, a laboratory for the deuteration of biological macromolecules, which will act as a centre for users and as a focus for the in-house research activity.

3 The European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) is an international organisation with the mission to conduct basic research in molecular biology, to provide essential services to scientists in its 16 Member States, to provide high-level training to its staff, students and visitors, and to develop new instrumentation for biological research. The EMBL has recently embarked on its new 2001-2005 scientific programme whose major theme is functional genomics, of which structural genomics is clearly recognised as a crucial component. In this context the Grenoble Outstation, through its close interaction with both the ESRF on the one hand and with the biology and bioinformatics units of EMBL on the other hand, is a natural link between "wet biology" and structure determination. The EMBL will therefore build up a core infrastructure on the Grenoble site in protein expression, characterisation and crystallisation to complement its ongoing joint activities with the ESRF in support of and development of instrumentation for macromolecular crystallography beamlines.

4 The Institut de Biologie Structurale (IBS ) which is sponsored by the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), the Commissariat à l'Energie Atomique (CEA) and the Université Joseph Fourier (UJF), possesses a unique technical platform [three X-ray diffractometers equipped with rotative anode generators, high-field NMR (600 and 800 MHz), mass spectrometers, conventional and field emission gun electron cryomicroscope, analytical ultracentrifugation, etc.].The major goal of the IBS is to understand, in a dynamic way, the structure and function of various biological objects including soluble and membrane bound proteins, supra-molecular complexes and molecular machines. This area overlaps with activities pursued at the ESRF, EMBL and the ILL. With the latter, a collaboration on deuteration is being studied. The IBS therefore plans to contribute to the joint undertaking on the Grenoble site and to intensify its collaboration with the other partners of the PSB.

For more information about the PSB, have a look at the website

Contact: Montserrat Capellas, tel. +33 476 88 26 63
Dominique Cornuejols, tel. +33 4 76 88 20 25