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$13 million grant for Berkeley Lab crystallography research

The US Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has received two new grants worth $13 million to improve software and increase automation in crystallographic processes.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) awarded an $8.2 million grant to ugrade the Phenix software, which automates crystallography data acquisition and analysis, and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) awarded $4.8 million to upgrade the robotic capabilities of their crystallography beamlines in BerkeleyLab's Advanced Light Source.

With new genes being identified all the time, there is an increasing demand for improved crystallography methods to identify the structures of proteins and nucleic acids. The Phenix (Python-based Hierarchical Environment for Integrated Xtallography) software provides the necessary algorithms to do this. According to Paul Adams, who heads the Berkeley Center for Structural Biology: 'It is designed to help both novice and expert crystallographers extract as much meaningful information from their data as possible.'

The current version is highly automated and can rapidly arrive at an initial model of structure without significant human intervention. Released in 2005, is has already drawn more than 1000 downloads.

Under the grant from NIH's National Institute for General Medical Sciences, Adams and his collaborators will develop algorithms for protein structure model completion, the identification of problematic data, and automated decision-making. They will also develop the tools needed to extend the capabilities of PHENIX to nucleic acids. This upgrade is expected to take five years to complete.

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