FEI company joins eleven-partner Interaction Proteome Project funded by the European Union

Eindhoven 26 April 2004What 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 European Union-backed project, "Interaction Proteome", plans to put Europe at the forefront of this exciting science. Interaction Proteome, co-ordinated by the Max Planck Institute for Biochemisty in Martinsried, Germany, brings together the scientific excellence of eleven European research institutions and companies. FEI company, a provider of advanced tools for nanotech, will join the project.

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The project will receive euro 12 million over five years within the Sixth Framework Programme of the European Commission to develop novel technologies for Proteomics research. The project's key objectives include creating a "platform of routine methods" for analysing protein interactions in bio-medical research. Extensive bio-informatics support is a key element in the project to cope with the massive increase in experimental data on protein interactions obtained using novel technologies. In particular, efficient integration of data sets represents a key challenge in proteomics and functional genomics.

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 approximately 30.000 genes. The emergence of proteomics 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 2004 and will last until 2009, is to establish Europe as the frontrunner in functional proteomics. This involves scientists, equipment and data specialists in several fields, namely biological, biochemical and biophysical.

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, high-density peptide arrays and enhanced visualization technology for light and electron microscopy at hand, the European Union project will be in a position to shed light on major health and disease problems.

The eleven partners in the consortium come from research institutes, universities and industry in Germany, Denmark, Belgium, The Netherlands and the United Kingdom. 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 co-ordinating such a 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?" explained Franz-Ulrich 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 European Union teams in the structural and functional genomics field."

The FEI company will collaborate within the project with the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry, a laboratory specialized in electron tomography. This collaboration will stimulate the development of a new gene ration of instruments with improved sensitivity suited to the analysis of protein complexes within the cell. In addition to the potential hardware developments, algorithms for efficient parallelization and template libraries will be targeted objectives to allow and speed up the detection and identification of molecular structures in tomograms.

In addition to the FEI company and Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry, the Interaction Proteome partners are the University of Southern Denmark, Odense; Flanders Interuniversity Institute of Biotechnology, Belgium; the University Tor Vergata, Rome, Italy; the Technical University of Denmark, Copenhagen; Beatson Institute for Cancer Research Glasgow, United Kingdom; GSF-National Research Center for Environment and Health, Neuherberg, Germany; ThermoElectron GmbH, Bremen, Germany; EMBL, Heidelberg, Germany; and Jerini AG, Berlin, Germany.

The team sees its successful application for European funding as vindication of the importance of this emerging field within the European scientific community. Indeed, having industry on board 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 euro 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.


Leslie Versweyveld

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