Whaddaya Know: A Guide to Uncertainty and Subjectivity in Structural Biology

Joel P. Mackay, Michael J. Landsberg, Andrew E. Whitten, Charles S. Bond

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


The methods of structural biology, while powerful, are technically complex. Although the Protein Data Bank (PDB) provides a repository that allows anyone to download any structure, many users would not appreciate the caveats that should be considered when examining a structure. Here, we describe several key uncertainties associated with the application of X-ray crystallography, NMR spectroscopy, single-particle electron microscopy (SPEM), and small-angle scattering (SAS) to biological macromolecules. The take-home message is that structures are not absolute truths – they are models that fit the experimental data and therefore have uncertainty and subjectivity associated with them. These uncertainties must be appreciated – careful reading of the associated paper, and any validation report provided by the structure database, is highly recommended.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)155-167
Number of pages13
JournalTrends in Biochemical Sciences
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2017


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