Words fail me

As I’m a biologist, rather than an inorganic chemist or a mineralogist, I don’t have much (well, any) need to look at crystal structures of simple inorganic compounds. Just as well…

…our story begins at Twitter, where David Bradley asks:

Anyone know where to find crystal structures of sodium hypochlorite and sodium bisulfate (cif files or similar) ? #science #crystal

Never thought about it, you say, but surely it can’t be very difficult. So you head to Google and try searches such as “inorganic crystal structure database”. Where you unearth two main players: the Inorganic Crystal Structure Database (ICSD) and the Cambridge Structural Database (CSD). Both are private, requiring registration, login and in one case, installation of an X-client.

Coming from bioinformatics where comparable resources such as the PDB are freely-available via web interfaces, I find this utterly perplexing. Why do these research communities stand for it? Is anyone developing free, open alternatives?

A small achievement

Moving to a new group and a new project is always difficult. However, one of the better aspects of being a bioinformatician is that you can often contribute to other projects – which can be a bonus when your own are not progressing so well.

I’m happy to announce:

Thakur, A.S., Robin, G., Guncar, G., Saunders, N.F.W., Newman, J., Martin, J.L. and Kobe, B. (2007). Improved Success of Protein Crystallization Sparse Matrix Screening with Heterogeneous Nucleating Agents. PLoS ONE 2:e1091. Open Access

My contribution was very minor; some writing and a little statistical evaluation (although the method that I had in mind didn’t make it to the final version). The take-home message is: if your protein won’t crystallise, try throwing some dried seaweed into the mix! It’s not ground-breaking stuff but it’s solid enough, so we decided it was ideal for PLoS ONE, which gives us the added warmth and fuzziness of supporting OA publishing.