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Guest editorial - Michael G. Rossmann


The IUCr Congress met in Kyoto in the summer of 1972. The meeting schedule was largely a copy from previous congresses leaving little space for biological results. However, at that time protein crystallography was just starting on its initially slow, but ever more rapid exponential climb to the front seat of the crystallographic arena. The structures of myoglobin and hemoglobin had been determined in Cambridge in the late 50's, and those of lysozyme, ribonuclease, chymotrypsin, papain, as well as lactate, malate and alcohol dehydrogenase had been elucidated in the US, UK, the Netherlands and Sweden in the 60's or early 70's. Some common features were starting to be recognized, like the globin fold, the dinucleotide binding fold, and the catalytic triad of chymotrypsin. But there was no ready forum where these exciting events could be discussed in Kyoto (although Max Perutz and Walter Hoppe had organized memorable meetings attended by a few dozen crystallographers in the Austrian Alps).

Tom Blundell in England, I through my participation in the US National Crystallographic Committee, and especially Dorothy Hodgkin's organization of the IUCr meeting in Amsterdam in 1975, started to change the situation. Since that time there has been an ever-increasing presence of biology in the deliberations of the IUCr committees, although some changes took a little bit of extra push. Eventually biological crystallography was honored with its own journal, Acta Crystallographica D, outstandingly managed by Jenny Glusker since its inception in 1993. Then, in about 1994, the IUCr's executive committee decided it wanted to make sure of its role in the taming of the young cuckoo science before it became too big for its nest. Thus Ted Baker was commissioned to convince me to write a book on Macromolecular Crystallography, which was to be the gold standard for the subject. However, book writing is not my favorite occupation. Thus I avoided making any commitment by giving advice instead, hoping that Ted would eventually become tired of consulting with me. But Ted is a sly Kiwi and he completely outwitted me.

One day, in April 1996, just four months before the IUCr Congess in Seattle, I woke up realizing that I was expected to create a new volume of the International Tables explicitly about macromolecular crystallography. Some years earlier Eddy Arnold and I had written a chapter on Patterson methods for International Tables Volume B. Thus I felt that Eddy might be able to help me out of my predicament, and indeed that is exactly what happened. We had many long phone conversations in which we worked out the chapters that would be needed to give as complete as possible coverage of the now vast subject. At Eddy's urging, we expanded the initial purely crystallographic outline to review the current status of structural biology. By the Seattle IUCr meeting we already had contacted many potential authors with whom we discussed our ideas. Five years later, in 2001, we were proud to see the completion of the work, having received outstanding and full support by more than 100 authors who contributed to volume F. Eddy and I feel honored to have been editors of this volume and thank all the very many people who participated. We would now like to see volume F and some of the other volumes made available on-line. It is much more convenient to plug in my little lap-top computer most any place on Earth (I have even done so in Antarctica) than to carry around many pounds of wood pulp.

I would not believe it possible to see so much change in crystallography since I helped Max Perutz to determine the structure of hemoglobin (and since that meeting in Kyoto) had I not actually been a witness to these events. Although nothing just like this will ever happen again, I suspect that some of the most exciting discoveries are always happening right now.

Michael G. Rossmann