CHICAGO—Pharmaceutical firms are raiding universities to recruit X-ray crystallographers with expertise in biological molecules at a rate that threatens to undercut academic research in the field.

"This trend may weaken the university training of molecular biologists, and impair the development of protein engineering, which might remain limited to those projects targeted by industry," contended Daniel J. Goldstein of the University of Buenos Aires at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science here in February.

While not all observers see the situation in such stark terms, there is agreement that the trend is significant. "I think it's a problem now," said George A. Jeffrey of the University of Pittsburgh. "Industry seems to be most interested in taking people with postdoctoral experience; they've robbed the postdoc level, if you will."

Keith Watenpaugh, who is starting a crystallography group at the Upjohn Company in Kalamazoo, Mich., said the...

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