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Friday, 11 February, 2000, 14:59 GMT
First life protein map completed

<I>Saccharomyces cerevisiae</I>: Small but important Saccharomyces cerevisiae: Small but important

By BBC News Online science editor Dr David Whitehouse

Scientists have completed the first protein interaction map for an entire organism.

It shows how all the proteins in Saccharomyces cerevisiae, better know as brewers' or bakers' yeast, work together to build and maintain the organism.

And, more importantly, upstanding how these biological molecules behave in the fungus could give scientists new leads in the ongoing fight against human diseases and point to the development of novel drugs.

Researchers at an American bioscience company and the University of Washington say yeast is just the start.

In the near future, scientists hope to identify the protein interactions within other known genomes, including that of the fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) and humans.

'landmark achievement'

The fruit fly genome is said to have been completed and is awaiting publication. A rough version of the human genome is expected to be finished in just a few months.

The CuraGen corporation, the US biotechnology that completed the yeast protein map, expects it will take only two years to identify the protein interactions for the human genome, once the DNA sequence is publicly available.

Inside yeast are 6,000 genes on 16 chromosomes Inside yeast are 6,000 genes on 16 chromosomes
"This is a landmark achievement in the field of functional genomics," said Dr Richard Lifton of CuraGen and Yale University.

"By finding the protein interactions in an organism such as yeast, we have gained a tremendous insight into understanding biochemical functions across all organisms, including humans."

The research, titled, "A Comprehensive Analysis of Protein-Protein Interactions in Saccharomyces cerevisiae," is published in the journal Nature.

The yeast genome sequence has been known since 1996 but until now, scientists had rather limited understanding of the function of its genes and resulting proteins. The yeast genome consists of 6,000 genes arranged on 16 chromosomes.

Next generation drugs

Genes are essentially DNA templates that make chemicals called proteins. If a gene is damaged then the resulting protein will be deformed and may not work properly. The result may be disease.

"But gene discovery is only the first step. Understanding how genes function is the key to understanding their role in disease," says Dr Jonathan Rothberg of CuraGen.

"With the task of sequencing the human genome nearly complete, we are poised to utilise this information to translate this raw sequence data into knowledge for creating the next generation of drugs."

Yeast is a well-studied, so-called model organism for understanding human disease. It has a lot of genes in common with humans and fruit flies, and a lot of genes that are very similar - including ones involved in metabolic disorders, cancer, auto-immune diseases, as well as neurological problems.

Scientists say that by understanding the function of the proteins made by the yeast genes they will be able to obtain a clearer indication of how the human version of that gene works. This would provide information valuable in determining the link between complex diseases and specific genes.

CuraGen mapped the protein interactions within the yeast genome by using its patented PathCalling technology. This allows it to identify proteins and biochemical pathways and to find out what genes are responsible for them.

Shares in CuraGen rose by about a third on publication of the research. Over the past 12 months, CuraGen's share prices have risen over 2,000%.

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See also:
04 Oct 99 |  Sci/Tech
Gene mappers near historic goal
16 Mar 99 |  Sci/Tech
'Working draft' of human genome by 2000
05 Jul 99 |  Sci/Tech
Similarity in diversity
03 Dec 99 |  Sci/Tech
Book of life: Chapter one

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