INTEGRATED PROJECT, RESEARCH
What do you get when you combine proteins and genomes?
You get a new scientific field called ‘proteomics’, one which is helping genome researchers in the next phase of their quest to unravel complex biological and biochemical systems. A new EU-backed project, ‘Interaction Proteome’, plans to put Europe at the forefront of this exciting science.
With the complete sequencing of several genomes – including the human one – now a reality, scientists are turning their attention to understanding the hundreds of thousands of human proteins encoded by our 30 000 or so genes. Do the maths and the scale of this work starts to become clear.
|What do proteins do inside the cell? EU-backed project ‘Interaction Proteome’ hopes to answer this question|
© Source: Max Planck Society
The emergence of proteomics – a derivative of the two words protein and genomics – should help scientists find answers to complex biological and physiological questions at the molecular level, while complementing physical genomic research. Proteomics is the large-scale study of protein-to-protein interaction, especially their structures and functions. Most importantly, while the genome is a rather constant entity, the proteome is constantly changing through its biochemical interactions with the genome.
This is where Interaction Proteome sees an opening for European expertise. New technologies, testing systems and approaches are required to process the explosion of data expected to come out of this field. The aim of the project, which kicked off in January this year and will last until 2009, is to establish Europe as the frontrunner in functional proteomics. Its key objectives include creating what it calls a “platform of routine methods” for analysing protein interactions. This involves scientists, equipment and data specialists in several fields – namely, biological, biochemical and biophysical.
Novel approaches to a novel science
Berzelius first discovered proteins – which means ‘first thing’ – in 1838. As one of the primary constituents of living things, scientists have ventured to understand its physiological and biological role. Today – with genomics data and novel technologies, including high-range mass spectrometers and improved electron microscopy, at hand – the EU project will be in a position to shed light on major health and disease problems.
The 11 partners in the consortium come from research institutes, universities and industry in Germany, Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands and the UK. Leading the new integrated project (IP) – one of the Union’s main funding instruments in its Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) for research – is Franz-Ulrich Hartl of Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry (DE). He predicts that coordinating such as multinational project will throw up some challenges along the way, but he is equal to the task.
“Now that the genome sequencing is done, the major question we need to answer is: what do proteins do inside the cell?” says Hartl. Communication between the partners during the work phase is going to be key. “We will have monthly teleconferences and the next big meeting of our consortium will be in Barcelona in Autumn, where we will also exchange information with other EU teams in the structural and functional genomics field.”
The team sees its successful application for EU funding as vindication of the importance of this emerging field within the European scientific community. Indeed, having industry onboard from the outset is a critical aspect of successful integrated projects: through direct contact between technology and science, the innovation pipeline – from new knowledge to tangible application stage – is much shorter.
Interaction Proteome was officially launched in Rome earlier this year. A lot can be done with the €12 million grant from the Commission. In five year’s time, the project hopes to deliver new models, methods, databases, and technologies aimed at sending Europe to the top of the class in protein-interactions.
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