The future belongs to proteomics

February 12, 2001With the prodigious task of sequencing the human genome largely behind them, researchers now face the more daunting challenge of understanding the proteomeall of the proteins expressed in a cell, according to Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator Stanley Fields.

In an article titled, "Proteomics in Genomeland" in the February 16, 2001, issue of the journal Science, Fields writes, "In the wonderland of complete sequences, there is much that genomics cannot do, and so the future belongs to proteomics, the analysis of complete complements of proteins."

Protein analysis, says Fields, is more complicated than figuring out the linear sequence of DNA genes because researchers must carry their analysis much further. "Proteomics includes not only the identifying and quantifying of proteins, but also determining their localization, modifications, interactions, activities, and, ultimately, defining their function," wrote Fields, who is at the University of Washington. Unlike DNA, proteins undergo complex biochemical modifications. A single gene, for example, can encode multiple proteins by means of alternate splicing of the messenger RNA. "All of these possibilities result in a proteome estimated to be an order of magnitude more complex than the genome," wrote Fields.

In an interview about the Science article, Fields cautioned that scientists switching from genomics to proteomics will face major professional challenges as they are faced with learning new laboratory techniques and establishing productive research collaborations. However, he expressed confidence that agencies that fund research are up to the task of fostering necessary technologies and research infrastructure.

While researchers have gained a better understanding of thousands of proteins based on studies of their biological activity in the cell, Fields says that

Contact: Jim Keeley
Howard Hughes Medical Institute

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