March 2010

ASBMB Introduces the DeLano Award



The memory of Warren L. DeLano will be honored with the ASBMB DeLano Award for Computational Biosciences.

Although the term “maestro” is generally confined to the musical arena, those who knew and worked with the late Warren L. DeLano would not be shy about applying this term to his skills with programming.

Perhaps most notably exemplified by PyMOL, an open-source tool for visualizing the three-dimensional structures of proteins and other biological molecules, DeLano, who died Nov. 3 at age 37, had a rare gift for designing computer programs that were complex yet accessible, technical yet elegant.

One of the key innovations of PyMOL, for example, was that it made the molecular visualization of complex biomolecular systems available to the average biologist. DeLano’s program was the first of its type to use “click-and-drag” functionality to manipulate structures, allowing scientists to tinker with protein mutants and the configuration or chemical composition of bound ligands. DeLano’s legacy will live on through PyMOL, CNS (Crystallography and NMR system, a software suite to aid in structural determination), Phenix (Python-based Hierarchical Environment for Integrated Xtallography) and the numerous other computer programs he developed. There are few, if any, researchers in the world who work in the areas of structural or computational biology who do not owe a great deal to DeLano’s advances.

The Award

The DeLano Award for Computational Biosciences was established by family, friends and colleagues to honor the legacy of Warren L. DeLano. The award will be given to a scientist for the most accessible and innovative development or application of computer technology to enhance research in the life sciences at the molecular level. The contribution should include two key elements— more productive use of computers to accelerate and facilitate research and ready access of those programs by the scientific community. The award consists of a plaque, a $3,000 cash prize and travel expenses for the recipient to attend the ASBMB annual meeting to present a lecture.

The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology will further perpetuate DeLano’s spirit by introducing the DeLano Award for Computational Biosciences in 2011. The award will be presented each year to an investigator who develops the most innovative computational tool or application that helps advance the field of molecular life sciences.

This award also will serve to recognize the growing importance of the field of computational biology. As biological disciplines continue to produce an abundance of complex information, whether it’s continually higher-resolution, three-dimensional structures, real-time movies of cell activity or even whole genomes and proteomes, computers will become ever more critical in both storing and making sense of this data.

Importantly, the computational advance recognized by the award must be readily accessible to the scientific community; sharing and accessibility was one of DeLano’s strongest beliefs. DeLano embraced the concept of open-source technology, making his programs and source code feely available to prospective users, enabling researchers to build on his developments.

This award was established with the help of ASBMB members Axel T. Brunger, professor of molecular and cellular physiology at Stanford University, and James A. Wells, professor and chairman of the department of pharmaceutical chemistry at the University of California, San Francisco. As DeLano’s undergraduate and graduate advisers, respectively, Brunger and Wells experienced both his talents and bright personality firsthand and wanted some avenue through which to honor his impact. Together, they worked closely with DeLano’s family to bring this ASBMB award to fruition.

Video demonstration of PyMol, an open-source tool for visualizing the three-dimensional structures of proteins and other biological molecules created by DeLano.

Nick Zagorski ( is a science writer at ASBMB.


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