Professor Ron Appel, speaking at the 10th anniversary conference of the Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics in Berne, Switzerland, says they have completed the annotation of human proteins.
Where the Human Genome Project produced a dictionary, this new work is more like an encyclopedia because it looks at life as it is really organized in our body at the molecular level, which will speed up scientific work that aims to improve our quality of life, like how we can combat genetic-based diseases.
Professor Amos Bairoch, head of the SIB's Swiss-Prot group said: "If human DNA is the script of life, proteins are its actors, its living embodiment."
Proteins are the essence of life but when they become defective they can cause suffering and often early death. Man's knowledge of proteins such as insulin and haemoglobins is crucial to combating diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer's, cystic fibrosis and haemophilia.
Professor Bairoch said, "The general public would understand some of the entries in our protein encyclopaedia. Insulin, for instance, is a small protein that controls glucose levels in our blood. The performance-booster EPO is the protein used illegally by some cyclists. In the human body it takes many forms. But we detect its use in sport because competitors use a manufactured form which is not natural."
The new protein encyclopedia covers a major part of the work of thousands of health researchers around the word. The data covers 20,325 human proteins. The information could ultimately be used for developing exact treatments for individual patients based on an understanding of their specific protein set. It can help improve our chances of defeating a variety of diseases, by enabling researchers to model the interaction between individual patients, diseases and drugs.
Progress on the Human Protein Initiative (HPI) project has been rapid. Ten years ago, there was good data on less than 1,000 proteins. Two years ago, there were good entries for 15,000 and now the collection is complete. One of the remaining challenges is still to complete the same encyclopedia of proteins for other animals.
Professor Bairoch said, "More than 45,000 scientific papers were read. We examined databases that were out there to get a picture of the knowledge which existed. We had to go out and find the material."
This new protein encyclopedia is published online and available free to users. In printed form, it would correspond to 57 volumes of about 1,000 pages each.
The Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics director Professor Ron Appel closed the press conference praising the collaboration between five universities and two institutes of technology across the length and breadth of Switzerland.
He said: "Their collective success shows what can be achieved when experts pool their knowledge and vision.
"The SIB is a pioneering institute. More successes can be expected in future. These will add to what is already an impressive track record in all the fields of bio-informatics technology research we work in."
He also emphasised that without the support of the Swiss government and international partners, none of this would be possible, "so we owe a big thanks to them", he added.
In addition, Professor Bairoch thanked the Swiss government, international funding agencies and all the scientists who contributed to their recent breakthrough. He said, "ours is just one of the 25 SIB groups working at the frontiers of scientific knowledge for the benefit of mankind."