Charge Letter of Dr. Martha Krebs, May 28, 1998

May 28, 1998



Dr. Keith O. Hodgson
Chair, Department of Energy
Biological and Environmental
Research Advisory Committee
Department of Chemistry
Stanford University
Stanford, California 94305

Dear Dr. Hodgson:

The rapidly expanding need for synchrotron facilities by the structural biology community, particularly the X-ray crystallographers, has been well documented. There are three outstanding analyses available that provide a comprehensive view of the needs and resources. These include: (1) "Report of the Basic Energy Sciences Advisory Committee Panel on D.O.E. Synchrotron Radiation Sources and Science," November 1997; (2) "Structural Biology and Synchrotron Radiation: Evaluation of Resources and Needs," from the Structural Biology Synchrotron Users Organization, December 1997; and (3) "Survey of Structural Biology Beam Lines and Instrumentation at US Synchrotron Centers - Needs and Opportunities for the Future," developed by you and Eaton Lattman, February 1998. These will be referred to as the BESAC report, the Biosync report, and the Hodgson/Lattman report, respectively.

As stated in the Biosync report, "The U.S. national capacity for crystallographic experiments at synchrotron resources has approximately doubled since 1991. However, demand continues to outpace supply by a factor of approximately two." The BESAC report states that "access to a synchrotron beamline for macromolecular crystallography (is) essential to almost any structure problem," and "it is expected that structural biology use of the synchrotron will continue to increase dramatically for the next decade." Furthermore, the BESAC report notes that, already today "The major impediment to use of the synchrotron has been timely access to beam time."

Given these concerns, a working group of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) was established to examine how current and future access to beamlines, especially for macromolecular X-ray crystallography, could be improved. Additionally, longer term improvements in capabilities were also to be considered. As noted in the Biosync report, "Collaboration of (the agencies) would increase operational efficiency and planning for synchrotron source upgrades and the infrastructure required." This collaboration to provide improved access to structural biologists and for planning purposes is the primary goal of the OSTP Working Group.

In order to determine what investment is needed by the federal government to ensure that legitimate research needs are met, an accurate assessment of existing capabilities and the potential for improvement is required. The Hodgson/Lattman report is a compendium that provides much of this information, as provided by beamline facility and light source directors. However, the OSTP Working Group felt it would be useful for this estimate to be assessed further by a representative group of users and other informed participants in structural biology at synchrotrons. There also remain some additional questions that need to be addressed.

In response to the request of the OSTP Working Group and BERAC's sustained interest in this area over the past few years, BERAC should establish a subcommittee to address the following issues:


    1) Evaluate and broadly prioritize the assessment of potential improvements in beamline access and capabilities outlined in the Hodgson/Lattman report. What is the appropriate balance between funding of staff and funding of hardware to improve beamline access?

    2) Given the potential investments described in the reports, and any additional ones that may emerge from the subcommittee deliberations, what benefits are likely to be derived? What kinds of experiments require very high brightness? What ar e the current and future needs at each level of capability?

    3) What is the priority of the investments needed to provide access to more specialized capabilities such as time-resolved structure determination? How is Multi-wavelength Anomalous Dispersion (MAD) phasing expected to grow in importance?

    4) Should there be opportunities provided for non-standard needs such as quick-response, short-time use? Would a national (or regional), single proposal access system(s) for protein crystallography be beneficial? If so, what are the issues in developing such a system that would help make it successful or limit its effectiveness?

    5) What is required to accommodate the increasing number of non-specialist users at synchrotrons? What expansions and improvements in ancillary facilities (i.e., biology labs, offices, computing and networking, etc.) are needed to accommodate the users? Are there needs in areas such as housing, travel support, etc. that must be addressed?

    6) How are the existing resources, and those funded and under development, distributed over proprietary and limited-access beamlines? How should new investments be allocated to produce maximum benefits to the user population?

    7) Other issues as determined by the subcommittee.

Thank you very much for addressing this important issue. I look forward to your findings and recommendations. I would appreciate receiving a report no later than August 31, 1998, or sooner, if possible.




Martha A. Krebs
Office of Energy Research