Quarterly Reviews of Biophysics



Review Article

Protein identification in the post-genome era: the rapid rise of proteomics


PETER JAMES a1
a1 Protein Chemistry Laboratory, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Universitätsstrasse 16, CH-8092 Zürich, Switzerland

Abstract

Most advances in biology can usually be traced back to the development of a new technique: the recent explosion in sequence information in the databases arose from the pioneering work on separation methods by Frederick Sanger which paved the way for the development of protein (Sanger, 1945) and DNA/RNA (Maxam & Gilbert, 1977; Sanger, 1981) sequencing and culminated in the receipt of two Nobel prizes by Sanger. The initial phase of sequence database expansion was slow due to the tedious and slow nature of protein sequencing. Peptide sequencing was carried out manually and the complete analysis of a protein was tiresome, requiring the isolation of sufficient peptides from several digests of the target protein using proteases of different specialities to collect an overlapping set of fragments which cover the whole sequence. Protein sequencing gained momentum when the phenylisothiocyanate sequencing chemistry developed by Edman in 1949 was automated (Edman & Begg, 1967) and a commercial instrument requiring lower amounts (nanomoles) of sample was put on the market. Further technical advances such as novel valves to deal with small volumes of aggressive chemicals, the introduction of high pressure liquid chromatography (HPLC), and novel supports for sample immobilization, were all combined in the first gas phase sequencers, greatly increasing the sensitivity and allowing automated data collection (Hewick et al. 1981) and analysis. The new instruments with a sensitivity in the low picomole range appeared as rapid advances in DNA technology such as the development of restriction mapping (Danna et al. 1973), cloning (Cohen et al. 1973) and the dideoxynucleotide sequencing chemistry were threatening to make protein chemistry a relic of the past (Malcolm, 1978).