Examination of a protein's structural 'neighbors' can reveal distant evolutionary relationships that are otherwise undetectable, and perhaps suggest unsuspected functional properties. In the past, such analyses have often required specialized software and computer skills, but new structural comparison methods, developed in the past two years, increasingly offer this opportunity to structural and molecular biologists in general. These methods are based on similarity-search algorithms that are fast enough to have effectively removed the computer-time limitation for structure-structure search and alignment, and have made it possible for several groups to conduct systematic comparisons of all publicly available structures, and offer this information via the World Wide Web. Furthermore, and perhaps surprisingly given the difficulty of the structure-comparison problem, these groups seem to have converged on quite similar approaches with respect to both fast search algorithms and the identification of statistically significant similarities.
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