since James Watson and Francis Crick solved the double helix structure
of dna in 1953, biology's most formidable structural challenge has
been the "protein folding problem"-learning how nature gets from
a gene, a length of dna that encodes the order of amino-acid residues
in a string, to a working protein, that same string intricately
folded into all the pockets and creases and knobs essential to the
physics and chemistry of life.
protein structures are being collected at a steadily increasing
pace, knowledge of gene sequences is exploding. The Human Genome
Project, begun by the Department of Energy and the National Institutes
of Health less than ten years ago, will finish a draft of all 50,000
to 100,000 human genes-all three billion base-pairs-sometime this
year. The majority of the proteins these myriad genes code for do
not resemble any already known.
more information you have, the more kinds of information you need
to make sense of it," says Daniel Rokhsar, head of the Computational
and Theoretical Biology Department in the Lab's Physical Biosciences
Division and a professor of physics at the University of California
at Berkeley. "Without a simultaneous explosion in computation-powerful
computers and flexible programs-we'll be overwhelmed."