Help Desk Questions and Answers


The RCSB PDB Help Desk supports people from all over the world who write daily for assistance with the website, archive and general structural biology. About 1000 electronic conversations are initiated by nearly as many unique users in any given year. Questions come from students new to structural biology, users interested in the general study of science, and domain experts from various disciplines that utilize PDB data.

Types of questions to the help desk (from the 2012 RCSB PDB Annual Report)

Types of questions to the help desk (from the 2012 RCSB PDB Annual Report)

Many of these conversations lead to new developments and enhancements to the website and services offered.

Frequently asked questions include:

Q: Can I use this figure in my lecture/thesis/book?
A: All images, including Molecule of the Month illustrations, can be reprinted. Citation and full usage information is listed online.

Q: Is there a Web Service that will return entity descriptions?
A: Access to entity descriptions are one of the RESTful (REpresentational State Transfer) Web Services offered to make accessing data easier. A full list of available services is available; please let us know if there are other services that you would like to use.

Q: What is a PDB chain?
A: The term "chain" refers to a protein or nucleic acid macromolecule. A PDB entry may have multiple copies of the same "chain." For example, hemoglobin entry 4hhb contains 4 protein chains: 2 copies of the alpha chain and 2 copies of the beta chain. See PDB-101’s Understanding PDB Data for more.

Q: How do structures on hold for publication get released?
A: The wwPDB aims to release entries as close to the publication date as possible. With some entries, journals provide advance publication notice, and for others, citation information is sent by the structure authors or other users. Software is also regularly used to search for matches in PubMed. Have a citation? Please send it to the help desk.

Want to learn more? Read The Ins and Outs of the RCSB PDB Help Desk: What do we learn from our users? What do they learn from us? by Rachel Kramer Green from the Spring 2013 Newsletter.

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