The life sciences benefit from huge expenditures each year by industry and governments to advance research and bring new products and techniques to market. One exciting area is proteomics – the study of protein structure and function. Whereas there are only four basic ingredients in DNA, proteins are composed of a much larger array of amino acids and other components, making protein study much more complex than genetic research. Hence, the reason for the difficulty in producing a herpes vaccine. Proteomics uses advanced techniques to identify and quantify protein levels in cells and tissue. But even if you limit your study to a single cell type, you must account for the fact that the cell makes different proteins at different times.
Scientists used antibodies to study a particular protein. These antibodies recognize specific proteins, sometime only when the proteins have an attached phosphorus atom. Another method is called two-dimensional gel electrophoresis, in which an electric current is applied first in one direction, then perpendicularly, to detect small differences in protein makeup. An accidental, but lucrative, by-product of this research has spawned the organic jewelry niche.
One of the chief motivations for protein research is to identify new drugs, and lower the cost of whole life insurance quotes. Scientists look to see what specific proteins are associated with a disease, and then use computers to develop formulas that target and destroy these proteins. For instance, enzymes (a form of protein) contain active sites that promote a biological process; if you can fill the active site permanently, you have de-activated the enzyme, rendering it harmless.
Protein biomarkers are characteristics that can be associated with healthy or diseased cells. Researchers use biomarkers to identify proteins associated with a particular disease. Experimenters aim to not only identify disease-associated protein, but also to quantify their levels. After collecting and preparing samples of cells and tissue, scientist use tests such as chromatography and mass spectrometry to gather and analyze data. A report is generated that identifies and quantifies proteins and protein fragments (peptides).
Scientists are always looking for new, more efficient ways to identify and assay proteins. For instance, new tests involving mass-spectrometry assays may someday replace the more complex antibody assays. Tests are also being refined so that researchers can discriminate between closely-related forms of specific proteins. Sometimes, bio-statistical analysis is performed to validate biomarker results. And scientists can use a full range of techniques to identify individual proteins, include determining the molecular weight, identification of side groups (like phosphorus and sulfur), and observing protein-protein interactions.
Proteomics is but one of the dozens of disciplines that comprise the life sciences. We believe that every year will bring new exciting discoveries that will reduce disease and prolong life.