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Representation of a Smad protein 3D structure. In red, the most common mutations in lung cancer (M. Macias lab, IRB Barcelona).

Structural biologists endorse the potential of their field to extract quality information from big data

From the massive data obtained from genomic analysis down to the most intricate details of individual proteins. This is precisely what will be addressed by invited speakers in the next Barcelona Biomed Conference, to be held from today 28 to 30 November at the Institut d’Estudis Catalans. Entitled From genomes to structures: looking at big data with an atomic perspective” and organised by IRB Barcelona, based at PCB, and the BBVA Foundation, this event is the 29th in this series of think-tank gatherings.


The invited speakers include international experts in structural biology, such as crystallographer from the Weizmann Institute of Science Ada Yonath, 2009 Nobel laureate for her work on determining the structure of the ribosome, and Hartmut Oschkinat, an authority on the determination of protein structure using NMR, at the Leibniz-Institut für Molekulare Pharmakologie in Berlin. The event involves 22 leaders with complementary expertise, among them one of the pioneers of bioinformatics, Chris Sander, who is currently at the Dana Farber Institute in Boston, a leading Spanish bioinformatician,Alfonso Valencia, at CNIO in Madrid, and research physician-scientist Elías Campo, at the Hospital Clínico de Barcelona, who has participated in studies that have exploited “big data” to identify recurrent mutations in patients with lymphomas.

“Genomic analyses are generating so much information that we are overwhelmed. There is a lot of information and disinformation,” comments Maria Macias, ICREA researcher at the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona), structural biologist and co-organiser of the conference together with Hartmut Oschkinat. According to Macias, the time has come for “bioinformaticians, statisticians, and experts in a wide range of disciplines and techniques to jointly design projects that can organise and classify information and allow us to acquire knowledge from these “collections” of data. This is the most exciting part of the process, and it is fantastic to have such an enormous variety and amount of data,” she says.