User Fee for Protein Database

Plagued by a funding crunch and inundated with new data, SWISSPROT, a widely used amino acid database, will soon start charging a fee to industrial users.

SWISSPROT contains sequences and other information on more than 70,000 proteins and is used by some 200,000 researchers in 100 countries, according to its developer, Amos Bairoch of the University of Geneva. But managers have a backlog of around 150,000 computer-generated sequences from which to winnow out protein information, and the database's $3-million-a-year budget is only half of what it needs, he says.

So, starting in September, SWISSPROT--managed by the Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics and the European Bioinformatics Institute--will try to make up the deficit by charging corporate users anywhere from $2500 to $90,000 a year. Big companies are not likely to complain: The charges are "very modest in terms of the value of the database" for analyzing and comparing protein structures, says a Glaxo Wellcome spokesperson. Bairoch says that with smaller firms, fees may be negotiable. Academic and nonprofit users will still get free access to the database.