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Structural Biology

Structural biologists pledge to release data with preprints

Signers hope the pledge will encourage more openness in the community’s practices

by Laura Howes
January 2, 2021 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 99, Issue 1


Side view of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein.
Credit: Jason McLellan/University of Texas at Austin

The structure of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein has helped scientists design vaccines against COVID-19.

A list of over 80—and growing—structural biologists has pledged to release raw data from protein structure determinations at the time manuscripts are posted on preprint servers, before peer review, in an effort to reinforce the field’s culture of transparency. Structural biologists have been relatively quick to embrace data sharing. Today it is standard practice to deposit raw structural information to one of several specialized databases.

The data are released publicly for download as soon as the corresponding paper is published so other researchers can compare them with their proteins or use the coordinates to design drug treatments. But as researchers increasingly choose to publish their findings as preprints, data sharing has lagged. While it is possible to publish the data at the same time as a preprint, some still opt to delay data release until a paper comes out in a traditional journal.

The data are “the real prize in structural biology,” says Matthew Bowler, a structural biologist at European Molecular Biology Laboratory Grenoble who signed the pledge. While there is a fear of being scooped, he adds, releasing data earlier could speed the pace of research. That shift could be especially important for researchers studying SARS-CoV-2 proteins in an effort to battle the pandemic. This pledge complements one to share biomolecular simulation data relating to SARS-CoV-2 that computational researchers made earlier this year. The signatories hope that by pointing their colleagues to the pledge, they can persuade them to opt for more open data-sharing practices.



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