Researchers have built a map that shows how thousands of proteins in a fruit fly cell communicate with each other. This is the largest and most detailed protein-interaction map of a multicellular organism, demonstrating how approximately 5,000, or one-third, of the proteins cooperate to keep life going.
"My group has been working for decades, trying to unravel the precise connections among the proteins and gain insight into how the cell functions as a whole," says Spyros Artavanis-Tsakonas, an HMS professor of cell biology and senior author on the paper, published October 28, 2011, in Cell. "For me, this map is a dream come true."
Humans and fruit flies descend from a common ancestor, and in most cases, both species rely on the same ancient cellular machinery for survival. Despite the huge amount already known about the fruit fly and its genes, much about the function of its thousands of proteins remains a mystery. This map now gives precise clues to their function, offering scientists important insights into the process of development as well as a useful guide to the cellular activity of many higher organisms.
"This is of extraordinary translational value," Artavanis-Tsakonas says. "In order to know how the proteins work you must know 'who' they talk to. And then you can examine whether disease somehow alters this conversation."