Bringing Structure to Biology
In memoriam, Cyrus Chothia (1942-2019)
We noted with great sadness the passing of Cyrus Chothia. Cyrus has been a giant in understanding protein structures, their function and evolution over many years. In the early days with very few structures to work with, Cyrus and Arthur Lesk highlighted the amazing conservation and evolution of the Haemoglobin family, recognising the dependence of structural similarity to sequence divergence. He went on to write a short letter to Nature on 1000 protein families - although an underestimate, this publication has profoundly influenced thinking and understanding of how protein sequences evolve over time to modulate their structures and perform the many functions necessary for life on earth. The SCOP database, originally founded by Cyrus, who recognised Alexey Murzin's remarkable ability to compare and analyse protein folds, provides a compendium of domain families, which is used worldwide, and has helped the structural biology community to analyse their own structures and to understand where they sit in the tree of life.
Although not himself a computational biologist, he was able to attract and collaborate with many talented people and was himself a master of data analysis and could always see the wood from the trees. He was a kind, generous and cultured person and will be sorely missed, but he leaves a strong legacy of his academic 'children' who will continue to build on his foundations. We can all sit on his shoulders.
Janet Thornton, Alex Bateman, Gerard Kleywegt, Sameer Velankar
• Homepage at MRC-LMB:
• Chothia & Lesk paper (EMBO Journal, 1985):
• One thousand families letter (Nature, 1992):
• SCOP resource: http://scop.mrc-lmb.cam.ac.uk