Syllabus for
Protein 3D Structure Visualization & Structural Bioinformatics

Part of the Applied Molecular Biotechnology MS Program, Dept. Microbiology,
University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
Tuesdays and Thursdays, January 7, 9, 14, 16.
1:00 to 4:00 PM each day, Integrated Sciences Building 321.

Bringing A Laptop Computer Is Encouraged
but not required (iMacs are available in ISB 321).

Taught by Eric Martz* and Jeffrey Kane.
*Principal author of FirstGlance in Jmol, MolviZ.Org and team member of Proteopedia.Org.
*Professor Emeritus, University of Massachusetts, Amherst -- Hasbrouck 121 --

This syllabus is on-line:

Goals: This course will prepare students to understand and incorporate 3D macromolecular structure into their research and teaching. The principles of protein structure will be reviewed, including noncovalent bonds. Structural bioinformatics and genomics will be introduced. Students will learn what percentage of proteins have known 3D structures, and the importance of crystallographic models compared to homology models, or theoretical models.

Using laptop computers, students will learn how to find 3D protein molecular models for proteins in their research, and how to use Proteopedia.Org and FirstGlance in Jmol (adopted by Nature Structure & Molecular Biology) to investigate key structural features.
Protein structure will be related to function, evolutionary conservation and multiple-sequence alignments, and drug design. Specific oligomers will be constructed and visualized. Students will learn how to prepare customized publication-quality molecular images, animations for Powerpoint slides, and how to effectively and intuitively communicate function-structure relationships with online molecular scenes in the Proteopedia.Org wiki. Each student will prepare Powerpoint slides capturing the concepts and skills they have learned. All the software is web browser-based, easy to use, works on Windows or Mac OS X, requires no installation, is free and open-source, and is expected to be available for years to come.

Get Started Individually At Proteopedia

Before we start the next section together, while the group is getting organized ...
  1. Go to Proteopedia.Org.
  2. If you do not see a rotating molecule, raise your hand to get help with java.
  3. Take a look around Proteopedia.
  4. Try searching for one of your favorite molecules.
Workshop Startup and Overview

  1. Workshop Startup & Overview (Powerpoint Slides)
    I. Protein Data Bank & PDB Codes
    Crystallographic Resolution
  1. The Protein Data Bank (PDB) -- World Wide: -- USA:RCSB -- Japan:PDBj -- Europe:PDBe
  2. PDB identification code examples:
    • 1pgb a small protein domain, one chain.
    • 2hhd four protein chains with ligands.
    • 1d66 protein and DNA.
    • 104d DNA/RNA hybrid.
    • 9ins protein hormone.

  3. Proteopedia.Org (Part I).
    1. Main page: green links connect text to molecular scenes.
    2. Molecules explained by users. Examples:
    3. Random articles or molecules.
    4. Identify by touching (shows a "hovering" report).
    5. Pop up any molecular scene.
    6. Explanations of structural biology terms and concepts, e.g. asymmetric unit, Protein Data Bank, hydrogen bonds, temperature value, etc. all at About Macromolecular Structure.
    7. Pages in Spanish, Chinese, Russian, Arabic, Japanese, Turkish, etc.
    8. Has a page for each of the >95,000 PDB entries, showing it in Jmol.
    9. Title and Abstract.
    10. Shows resolution (see below).
    11. Link to FirstGlance in Jmol on every PDB code page.

    An electron density map at 2.5 Å resolution.
  4. X-Ray Crystallography and Resolution
    • 85% of models in the PDB come from X-ray crystallography experiments.
    • X-ray crystallography produces an electron density map (EDM).
    • The average uncertainty in an EDM is measured by its Resolution in Ångstroms:
      • 1.2 Å Excellent -- backbone and most sidechains very clear. Some hydrogens resolved.
      • 2.5 Å Good -- backbone and many sidechains clear.
      • 3.5 Å OK -- backbone and bulky sidechains mostly clear.
      • 5.0 Å Poor -- backbone mostly clear; sidechains not clear.
      • See the MOVIE.

    II. Finding published molecules of interest.
    Begin Powerpoint Slides.

  1. Finding published molecules of interest:
    Each student: please find the PDB code of a molecule related to your research or interests.
    You will use the PDB structure that you select for the rest of the class, and for your Powerpoint report.
      Recommended Characterstics
    1. X-ray crystal structure with good resolution <= 3.0 Ångstroms.
    2. Has protein.
    3. Has ligand(s).
    4. Has Rfree (free R).

    5. Searching (for a molecule from your research or team)
      Get the amino acid sequence of your protein. You could find it in UniProt.Org.
      Use the amino acid sequence of your protein to search for 3D structures.
      Write down the PDB code(s) that you find!
      • At www.PDB.Org (PDB-USA), click Advanced. Choose the Query type "Sequence Features: Sequence". Paste your sequence in the large box and click Submit Query.   Powerful but sometimes difficult to use; help is sometimes inadequate. Offers the most detailed information about hits.
      • PDBsum   Useful short summaries of hits.
      • OCA   Powerful and straightforward. Useful results table.
      • PDB-Europe

      Find molecules by name. (Not for sequence searching.)
    6. Browsing (if you don't have a molecule in mind, look here and pick one)

  2. What if your molecule has no published structure?
  3. Begin your Powerpoint Slides (Later, you will email them to Prof. Martz) Here is an example / demonstration of a Powerpoint Report. (Right click to download.) Complete questions 1-3 now: Questions for your slides.

    III. Review of Protein Chemistry and Structure.
    Introduction to Structural Bioinformatics.

  1. Central Dogma: DNA mRNA Protein.     DNA structure in Jmol / Estructura del ADN
  2. 20 Amino acids
  3. Polypeptide chain geometry and steric restrictions
  4. Covalent and non-covalent chemical bonds
  5. Typical hydrogen bond within a protein: hydrogen donor atom is covalently bonded to hydrogen; acceptor atom is not.
  6. Secondary Structure
  7. Folding: hydrophobic collapse
  8. Protein folds cannot be reliably predicted from sequence alone (using ab initio theory).

  9. Introduction to Structural Bioinformatics
    • Why do we care about 3D macromolecular structure?
    • What are 3D structure data?
    • Where do 3D structure data come from?
    • How much 3D structure knowledge do we have?
    • Primary and Derived 3D Structure Databases

    IV. FirstGlance in Jmol for exploring any macromolecule.
    FirstGlance in Jmol (Part I).

  1. There are two ways to get FirstGlance:
    1. Go to Proteopedia.Org, enter the PDB code in the search slot. Below the molecule, under Resources, click on the link to FirstGlance.
    2. Go to FirstGlance.Jmol.Org and enter the PDB code. (Or go directly to

  2. Explore 1izh in FirstGlance.
    1. Introduction
    2. Molecule tab
      1. Year, Method.
      2. Resolution.
      3. Free R.
      4. Chain details.
      5. Sequences: Crystallized vs. Full Length. Alignment at UniProt (1d66).
      6. Abstract.
      7. Citations.
      8. Text contents of the PDB file.
    3. Views tab
      1. Top 3 rows of views:
        Secondary Structure / Cartoon / N->C Rainbow
        Composition / Hydrophobic/Polar / Charge..
        Local Uncertainty / Vines / Thin Backbone
      2. Buttons.
        Ligands+ / Water / Slab
      3. 1pgb: Hydrophobic core: Hydrophobic/Polar, then Slab.
      4. 1pgb: Amphipathic helices and strands. (In FirstGlance, Hide a range (the helix or strand) then invert.)
      5. Compare with 1bl8 or 7ahl.
    4. Resources tab
      1. See lipid bilayer boundaries (1bl8 or 7ahl).
    5. 1pgb: Tools tab with Views.
      1. Salt bridges.
      2. Cation-pi interactions.
      3. Distances.
      4. Salt bridges in Charge View.
      5. Charges with Slab on.
      6. Sidechain distributions in Vines View.
      7. Find (review Chart of AA): PHE, (VAL,LEU,ILE), ASN, THR

  3. Explore 2mcg in FirstGlance.
    1. Tools tab
      1. Disulfides/S/Se

  4. Explore 3onz in FirstGlance. (Letter O not numeral zero!)
    1. Molecule tab
      1. Two chains, not sequence identical.
      2. Missing residues.
      3. Ligands+ and non-standard residues
    2. Views tab
      1. Ligands button; smaller ligands.
      2. Hide (chain, toluene, isolated His).
      3. Contacts
      4. Non-covalent interactions for HEM in chain A (blue chain).
    3. Resources tab
      1. Biological unit.

  5. Continue preparing slides to answer the Powerpoint Questions.

    V. Introduction to Multiple Sequence Alignment (MSA) and Conservation
    ConSurf Server
    Structure of Atomic Coordinate ("PDB") Files
  1. Evolutionary conservation identifies functional sites in protein molecules.

    1. See Introduction to evolutionary conservation.

      Effect of mutation on protein function Genetic consequence Example
      Function LOST** CONSERVED:
      mutation LOST from gene pool
      None NOT conserved:
      mutation remains in gene pool
      * in methyl CpG binding protein 2 (MeCP2), 3c2i:

               ^          ^

      ** R133C causes Rett syndrome, a severe neurological disorder.
      Gray: disordered in crystal, absent in model 3c2i.

    2. In Proteopedia, show Evolutionary Conservation. Example: 3c2i
    3. Enzyme example: ConSurf-colored sequence -- enolase 4enl in Proteopedia -- 4enl ConSurf Result -- enolase in Wikipedia.

    4. Multiple sequence alignments reveal conservation: MSA for 4ENL in black and white (printed handout).
    5. Detail of MSA with color

    6. ConSurf Mechanism.   (Details of Mechanism).
    7. There are two ConSurf Servers:
      1. ConSurfDB (DataBase)
        • Pre-calculated for every chain in the PDB.
        • Results are shown in Proteopedia.
        • Multiple Sequence Alignments typically include proteins of more than one function, so some conservation may be hidden.
      2. ConSurf
        • Set up each job by hand.
        • Easily select sequences for a single protein function, revealing conservation (within a family of proteins performing a single function) that may be hidden in ConSurfDB.

  2. Atomic Coordinate Files
    • Formats
      • Crystallographers: "PDB format" (Human-readable; based on 1970's system that used 1928-design paper punch cards)
      • Protein Data Bank: mmCIF (macromolecular crystallographic information format)
      • US National Center for Biotechnology Information: ASN1
    • Structure of PDB Files:   What are 3D structure data?
    • PDB files are plain text -- they can be edited with a text editor.
    • Examine PDB file for 4phv at

    VI. Evolutionary Conservation with ConSurf-DB
    Authoring Molecular Scenes in Proteopedia
    Publication-Quality Images & Animations for Powerpoint
    As you complete each section today, record your results in your Powerpoint Slides.

  1. Evolutionary Conservation: Follow the instructions for Question 14 to show conservation in your PDB code.
  2. If you have a serious research interest in the conservation pattern of your molecule (not required):
    1. You will want to do a ConSurf run where you limit the multiple sequence alignment to proteins with the same function as your molecule. Instructions.
    2. Using FirstGlance from ConSurf, you can see the conservation levels of amino acids contacting a moiety of interest.

  3. Author two scenes in Proteopedia.Org (Part II):
    1. See the help and movies under Want to Contribute? at the Main Page of Proteopedia.

    2. Login as "Student". Ask for the password.
    3. Go to the page Sandbox Reserved NN, where NN is the number assigned to you. For example, if you are assigned number 12, go to the page titled Sandbox Reserved 12.
    4. Click the tab, at the top, edit this page.
    5. Keep the {{Template:...}} at the top, but delete anything else that you did not put in this page.

    6. Click the 3D button (above the box) to insert a Jmol.
    7. Put your PDB code in the load parameter of the applet tag.
    8. Save the page (click Save page twice). You should see your molecule.

    9. Edit again, and show the Scene authoring tools.
    10. Use the load molecule tab to load your PDB code.
    11. Customize your scene: select, represent (display), color, label as you wish.
    12. Option: If you wish, you may copy a scene from FirstGlance into Proteopedia: Instructions.
    13. Use the save scene tab to save your scene.
    14. Paste the scene tag into the box above (the page text).
    15. Save the page (click Save page twice).

    16. Try the green link you made.
    17. Put a snapshot into a Powerpoint slide.
    18. Create a second scene and green link for your second Proteopedia Powerpoint slide.

      If you would like to contribute permanent content to Proteopedia, please apply for an account and password: click on request account.

  4. Continue preparing slides to answer the Powerpoint Questions.

    VII. FirstGlance in Jmol -- Part II
    Solution NMR
    Isoelectric Point
    Intrinsically Unstructured Proteins
    FirstGlance in Jmol (Part II)
  1. Solution Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR)
    • Gives an ensemble of multiple models consistent with the data.
      Examples: 1abt, 1cfc, 1jsa.
    • Differences between models can reflect flexible thermal motion in solution, or simply uncertainty due to a lack of enough data. Nothing in the PDB file tells you which is the case. You need to contact the authors.
    • There is nothing in the PDB file that measures reliability. (Unlike X-ray data, where Resolution, R, and R-free measure reliability.)
  2. Charge:
    • 1d66 and nucleotide binding.
    • Challenge: how can protein charge be changed in seconds, without changing the pH?     .
    • Calculate the isoelectric point (pI) and charge at pH 7 for one chain of your protein:
      1. Follows the instructions under Charge.. in the Views tab.

  3. Intrinsicially Unstructured / Natively Disordered Proteins
      About 10% of proteins are thought to be fully disordered to support their functions, and 40% of eukaryotic proteins have at least one long disordered region. Examples.

    VIII. Structural Bioinformatics and Genomics.
    Homology (Comparative) Modeling

  1. Structural Genomics: Worldwide Protein 3D Structure Knowledge
    1. How are 3D macromolecular structures obtained? Crystallography, NMR, and homology modeling.
    2. What fraction of the human proteome has known structure? A few percent.
    3. Is Structural Genomics the answer? Not in the next few years.
    4. Intrinsicially unstructured proteins.

  2. Homology (comparative) modeling: Introduction.
    1. Automated homology modeling: submit sequences (after removing any His tag!) to Swiss-Model (click on Automated Mode).
    2. Compare homology models from various methods at LOMETS. Here is an example study comparing multiple homology models. See especially comparisions in supplementary figures S4-S6.
    3. See if a structure of your molecule is in the Structural Genomics pipeline. Submit your sequence to the SG TargetDB. (Ask for help interpreting the results.)

    IX. Publication Quality Images and Animations with Polyview-3D
    Finishing Powerpoint Questions
    Animation from Polyview-3D.
    Click on the above image for
    a larger view and explanation.
  1. Make Animated PowerPoint Slides and Publication-Quality Images easily with Polyview-3D.

    • PyMol: popular with crystallographers. Beautiful views but not user friendly.
    • Just fill out an easy form, submit it, and (shortly) voila!
    • Center and orient the molecule as you wish.
    • Coloring can be customized. Highlight residues that you specify.
    • Accepts PDB files obtained from ConSurf to color your figures or slides by evolutionary conservation. Instructions.

    • Once you have an animation from Polyview-3D:
    • Windows Powerpoint: Simply drag the animation directly from the Polyview-3D web page and drop it into a powerpoint slide.
    • Mac OS X Powerpoint: (This works in Powerpoint:Mac 2008.)
      1. Control-Click (Right-Click) on the animation in the Polyview-3D web page, and select Save Image As ...
      2. Save the image to the Desktop.
      3. Drag the image file (filename ending in .gif) from the Desktop and drop it into a Powerpoint slide.
      4. The animation will run only when the slide is projected.

  2. You are now prepared to finish your Powerpoint Questions. Please email the completed PPT file to
    emartz AT microbio DOT umass DOT edu.

Additional Resources.
    Probably we will not have time in class to spend on these resources. Links are provided here in case you are interested to look at these later.
  1. Save any molecule you see! (as a PDB file)
    • Jmol: click on Jmol, then top item on menu, then bottom item on submenu.
    • Upload saved molecule (PDB file) to

  2. Example: Gramicidin channel in a lipid bilayer.

  3. Jmol in Scientific Journals
    1. FirstGlance in Jmol is used in Nature Structure & Molecular Biology and other journals.
    2. "Jmolized" Interactive Journal Figures: Biochemical Journal and ACS Chemical Biology.
    3. Jmolize your own figures: Frieda Reichsman -- MoleculesInMotion.Com
    4. Toolkit for Jmolizing journal figures provided by the International Union of Crystallography.
    5. Note that Proteopedia is easier than "Jmolizing": see Interactive 3D Complements in Proteopedia (similar to supplementary materials).

    Simplified SV40 Virus Capsid.
  4. Specific Oligomers vs. Crystal Contacts

    Lac repressor bending the DNA operon. If this image is not moving, reload the page.
  5. Animations & Morphing

    For Teachers and Future Teachers

  6. BioMolecular Explorer 3D (for students ages 15-19). All Jmol!

  7. High School Teacher's Resources.

  8. Bird Flu: N1 vs. Tamiflu Lesson Plan:
    • See links to background, lesson plan, morph animations of induced fit, and a cavity near Tamiflu at Proteopedia: Eric Martz's Favorites

  9. MolviZ.Org
    1. DNA, Hemoglobin, Antibody
    2. Lipid Bilayers and Gramicidin Channel
    3. Collagen
    4. Water & Ice & hydrogen bonding
    5. Toobers in Science Education

  10. World Index of Molecular Visualization Resources
    1. Hundreds of tutorials indexed by macromolecule (most in Chime, some in Jmol)
    2. Sources of atomic coordinate (PDB) files (metabolites, inorganic crystals, lipid micelles, etc.)
    3. Galleries, Molecular Sculpture and Physical Models, Software

  11. About Protein Structure
  12. Building a web page that shows your favorite molecules for research or teaching.
  13. T shirts and mugs!                  
    (Click images for more information.)

Keep in touch!