Findings: Flesh on the genomic bones

March 22, 2002

Scientists have drawn up one of the most detailed inventories yet of the proteins associated with a single type of human cell, writes Steve Farrar.

A team at Oxford University has picked out at least 2,300 platelet proteins. This demonstrates the potential of proteomics, the burgeoning field that seeks to put biochemical flesh on the genomics skeleton.

The human genome may be the complete set of instructions for making a human being, but it is the proteins that do the work.

A fuller understanding of the entire repertoire of proteins - the so-called building blocks of existence that make up, power and direct the function of a particular cell throughout its life - may provide inspiration for new therapies and drug targets.

In the case of platelets, which play a key role in blood-clot formation, a holistic knowledge of their proteome could lead to ways to promote wound healing or treatments to tackle strokes.

Holger Hebestreit, senior research associate of the Oxford GlycoBiology Institute, and colleague Steve Watson, estimated that the study - published in the journal Proteomics - had covered perhaps a third of the entire platelet proteome.

The scientists separated the proteins on a two-dimensional gel in an electric field. The result of their analysis was a proteome map that indicated the presence and abundance of at least 2,300 proteins. The team have so far looked at 284 of these in greater detail.

Dr Hebestreit likened the map to a star chart, a two-dimensional snapshot of a more complicated system. Nevertheless, it can be used as a guide to systematically explore the biochemistry of platelets.

"We need an inventory of proteins to understand what's out there," said Dr Hebestreit. "Then we can start to assemble this information into a virtual cell."

The team chose to study platelets in part because, unlike most cells, they lack a nucleus. This meant their proteome would be smaller and easier to map.

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