Professor Unveils Map of Proteins

Late last month, researchers unveiled a map that details how proteins in the fruit fly communicate with each other. With nearly 11,000 protein interactions depicted, this is the most extensive attempt to blueprint a network of proteins interactions inside a multicellular organism to date.

This work—published in the October 28 issue of “Cell”—was led by senior author Spyros Artavanis-Tsakonas, professor of cell biology at Harvard Medical School.

The map—the product of a five-year collaboration between the labs of Artavanis-Tsakonas, HMS professor of cell biology Steven P. Gygi, and scientists at UC Berkeley and in India—describes the functions of approximately one-third of fruit fly proteins.

K. G. Guruharsha, a contributing author and postdoctoral fellow in the Artavanis-Tsakonas lab, said that the fruit fly “is a very good model organism for understanding biology,” but its protein communication network remains elusive.

Nonetheless, Guruharsha added that a fruit fly protein interaction map may help scientists learn how evolutionarily related proteins communicate in humans.

“This is important as it may provide some clues as to how our own bodies work,” he said.

Gygi’s group used the technique of mass spectrometry to identify individual proteins in fruit fly cells by their mass.

“Spyros has long been interested in this [protein map],” Gygi said in an emailed statement. “We had the technology in my lab to do it, and he provided the idea and the grant to make it possible.”

Gygi added that the map is a resource for the scientific community.

“It provides a starting place for additional hypothesis about a protein’s function or localization,” he said.

According to Guruharsha, the protein map holds immediate promise for the Artavanis-Tsakonas group as well.

“We are looking at spinal muscular atrophy and the role some proteins may play in regulating a gene implicated in this disease,” he said. “We feel that our protein interaction map can help.”

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