Kim Henrick is currently the group leader of the European Bioinformatics Institute (EBI) Macromolecular Structure Database (E-MSD). He was born in Australia and received his PhD at the University of Western Australia in Crawley, Western Australia. He was a post-doctoral fellow at the Imperial College of Science and Technology in London, The Cambridge Centre for Protein Engineering in Cambridge, and the National Institute for Medical Research in London. Kim also spent some time working on the CCP4 project and as the senior scientific officer at the UK Science and Engineering Research Council (SERC) Laboratory in Daresbury. His interest in things structural has spanned the gamut from solving the structure of small organic molecules (reacting thionyl chloride with tricyclo [3,2,1,02,4]oct-6-en-ols to developing web-based systems for the deposition and validation of high-resolution electron microscopy macromolecular structure information. He has been with the European Bioinformatics Institute (EBI) since 1996, and became the head of the Macromolecular Structure Database (E-MSD) in 2001. Kim is also actively involved with the newly formed World Wide PDB (wwPDB).

Q: You started out doing small molecule crystallography and are now involved in the protein world. How and why did this transition take place for you?

A: The institute where I was working in the 1980's was in financial difficulties so I took voluntary redundancy and moved into protein crystallography. This was initially in bewilderment coming from 2-theta as a measure of resolution to Angstroms and to the realization that a B-factor in the protein world had no physical reality.

Q: As macromolecular crystallography moves into the age of structural genomics do you see parallels with changes that have taken place in small molecule crystallography over the years?

A: In 'small molecule crystallography' (what a dreadful expression) we had George Sheldrick. The release of SHELX76 changed the world in crystallography from struggling with programs with card image formats (SHELX76 was testing in 1975 -- the same year Microsoft was founded by Bill Gates and Paul Allen). This was followed closely by Digital Equipment Corporation introducing the VAX 11/780 (1978). These two events made crystallography relatively easy. With George's SHELXTL, he put into a single package data reduction, phasing, refinement, graphics, and report generation. Protein crystallographers at present have a status that has been lost by most chemical crystallographers although both are collecting data with the same machines (cryo-cooling and image plates). Currently data collection and structure solution in chemistry is usually carried out by departmental service crystallographers. The speed of data collection and structure solution for protein ligand complexes or mutant analysis is now much the same as for chemical crystallography. If the various high throughput projects being undertaken, such as BIOXHIT in Europe, achieve their aims it should soon be possible for new protein structures to be solved at similar rates, (and now 'we' have George Sheldrick as well, especially with SHELXD and SHELXE).

Q: What is the scope of the MSD project?

A: The aim of the European Macromolecular Structure Database, MSD, is to support deposition of new structures determined by X-ray, NMR and cryo-3D-electron microscopy techniques, to provide storage and organization of the structural data, and to support search and analysis tools to query the data, i.e. exactly the same as the RCSB and PDBj.

Q: What is the nature of your interactions with the RSCB PDB and PDBj?

A: The members of the wwPDB have identical aims in managing, processing and providing publicly accessible structural data. Not just the best we can do but really in the right way. The groups consist of people dedicated to this end of providing a global service for 3D structure data and we each know our individual processes are the best approach - which leads to resolvable niggling tensions at times. However these separate developments give an invaluable means of cross checking PDB entries, which would otherwise be missed. The members work under pressure from scientists who want the data in a form they require now, while in part being unsympathetic to the standardization of their structures.

Q: What do you think wwPDB should accomplish?

A: The wwPDB should reach the situation where the PDB is recognized as a global resource and its role defined by the partners and their scientific advisory boards. This will take considerable effort from the partners who are each restrained by the specific demands of their funding agencies. However, the function of the PDB should be seen as not the sole prerogative of the USA funding agencies.

Q: Where do you see structural biology evolving over the next decade and how will the PDB need to change to keep pace?

A: Genome projects and sequence-oriented bioinformaticians see their work as dealing with molecular biology. However, on its own, the DNA sequence tells us little about what the genome does or how it works. DNA sequences code for proteins but proteins are only functional once they have folded up into a unique 3D structure. Similarities and differences found between gene sequences can only really be understood once the 3D structure of a member of a homologous family is known. The PDB currently handles 3D structure data for proteins from the experimental techniques of X-ray crystallography and NMR spectroscopy. Significant 3D structural information is given from cryo-3D-electron microscopy and tomographic reconstructions. The PDB perhaps should expand to include all 3D experimental data and concentrate on data integration with other biological databases.