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« A Strange Machine | Main | World Wide Web, circa 2015 »

August 29, 2005


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Tihamer has mentioned in an interview that he thinks the human proteome project will be done by 2010.


I emailed him to get some extra info on this, but I have not gotten a reply.

Is there even an official human proteome project?

Is it really moving with such pace that it will be done by the end of the decade?

Tihamer Toth-Fejel

As far as finishing the human proteome project is concerned, it really depends on what you mean. The first part, of figuring out which proteins are coded by which gene, is fairly straightforward (even though there isn't a one-to-one correspondence between the two) and I'm only repeating what experts in the field have said when I predict that it will be done by 2010.

Biologist Ruedi Aebersold, currently at the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle, predicts that by 2009 we will be doing clinical studies using proteomic approaches. That means easily, quickly, and with good precision analyzing proteomes of any complexity. He foresees understanding all the protein pathways (i.e. metabolic functions) soon afterwards, though that involves solving very difficult data analysis and informatics problems.

Then, after figuring out the pathways (I guess that would be the human metaboleome), you'd then have to figure out how the metabolics leads to the phenotype (the human phenome?). Some people would lump all this under the human proteome (just as some were lumping it all under genomics when that project got started).

Because of the inherent nebulosity of proteomics, there is no "Human Proteome Project" per se in the U.S. or any other country, but the Human Proteome Organization (HUPO) acts as an international clearinghouse and sponsors conferences and seven initiatives (I'm not sure whether the internationalization will make it more or less successful; I hope so). Work on important bits and pieces of the human proteome is being carried out by different organizations. For example, the National Cancer Institute and the FDA's Clinical Proteomics Initiative is aimed at correlating protein and gene expression patterns for early detection and cancer screening, for establishing therapeutic response endpoints, and for monitoring drug toxicity during treatment. Also, the NIH (through the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases) has funded The Proteomics Research Resource for Integrative Biology at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, along with Proteomics Research Centers at University of Michigan, Scripps Research Institute, Myriad Genetics, Harvard Institute of Genetics, Caprion Pharmaceuticals, and Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Their mission is primarily to find new ways to fight pathogens.

The problem with predicting the *results* of the human proteome project is that it would be guessing at new science, not engineering. Science is much less predictable (i.e. like not at all), while predicting the results of engineering work is fairly accurate (given a decent budget and smart people). That said, nanotech engineering developments will make it easier to get at the new science. I really went out on a limb to predict that things will get very interesting, but what the heck; as Alan Kay said, "The best way to predict the future is to invent it." So let's get to work.


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