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Molecular Biology in Erice

The 21st Erice School of Crystallography, held May 27-June 5, 1994, was one of the largest ever with 208 participants from 31 countries. The program involved 23 "traditional" scientific sessions, three poster sessions with 121 contributions, and two special sessions devoted to "hot" topics. At the end of the meeting the first Erice Vaciago Award for the most "dynamic" young participant was presented to A. L. Swain (Frederick Cancer Center, Frederick, MD). The prize was named in memory of Alessandro Vaciago, a well-known Italian crystallographer.

In summarizing the meeting, W. Hendrickson, Director of this year's school, commented on the increased speed with which the new structures were completed and the growing complexity of systems being studied. He also noted the growing use of new techniques which supplement X-ray diffraction data in the determination of crystal structures. Primary among them was the use of cryocrystallography for data collection and the use of electron microscopy and electron diffraction of large particles or membrane bound systems. These data are used to obtain low-resolution phases which are then applied to the X-ray diffraction data. Of particular note was the ab initio determination of the structure of a membrane protein complex at 3.5 Å from electron diffraction. Other important advances included the use of new software to automatically determine heavy atom phases and trace carbon chains, the use of MAD and maximum entropy methods for phase determination, and powerful methods utilized in the CCP4 program package for phasing heavy atoms (MLPHASE), solvent flattening (SQUASH), map tracing (O), and model building (GRASP).

Among some of the most exciting new structures reported were nuclear receptor DNA-binding domain complexes for estrogen and thyroid hormone, human chorionic gonadotropin, plant light harvesting complex, and phosphorylase kinase.

L. Riva di Sanseverino will step down, after 21 years, as Executive Secretary for the Crystallographic schools in Erice. P. Spadon will become the new Executive Secretary. Lodovico will become the new Executive Treasurer for the Crystallographic Schools. T. Blundell, Director of the Crystallographic School at Erice, announced that L. Johnson (Oxford U.) will be acting director for the next School of Crystallography of Molecular Biology in Erice, May 26-June 4, 2000. The 1996 meeting on Drug Design will be directed by P. Codding (U. of Calgary). The 1997 Direct Methods in Protein Structure will be directed by S. Fortier.

V. Cody