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Are We Post-Genomic Yet?


Uh-oh. Here comes the buzz. Genomics is over, finished, kaput. Proteomics is the happening thing. Time to reprogram our marketing-speak. Genes? What were we thinking? Useless. Who cares? Aah, but proteins. Now there’s a real project. No more of this namby-pamby one-dimensional stuff. Wait, where’s my coffee?

Well, it is easy to get caught up in the current rush of enthusiasm for all things proteomic. But perhaps we could also do with some perspective. Yes, proteomics is definitely an up-and-comer. But genomics is hardly moribund. Want proof? Look no further than the world’s number one show-me-the-money arbiter, America’s capital markets.

Checking the SEC’s EDGAR database of filings from public (and would-be public) companies for the twelve months ending October 2000, we find 2,900 documents containing the word genomics. By comparison, there are only 296 documents containing the word proteomics. So genomics wins by an order of magnitude.

Nonetheless, the trend is unmistakable. In the previous 12-month period genomics was mentioned in 913 documents — a three-fold increase year-over-year. But proteomics was mentioned in only 45. That’s six-fold growth. And in October 2000, the venerable PR Newswire carried 251 press releases containing genomics vs. 49 for proteomics, so the lead is narrowing.

Partly, this may be due to confusion about definitions. Though agreement isn’t universal, there is a general consensus in the field about what genomics is ¯ especially as opposed to, say, genetics. Everything genomic has something to do with genes, but not everything to do with genes is genomic.

Not so with proteomics. While the idea of an organism’s proteome as a research objective is clear, proteomics appears to have become untethered from its root. Yes, everything proteomic does have something to do with proteins. But the definition has now broadened to the point where it appears that anything to do with proteins must, of course, be proteomics. And proteomics is hot stuff. So stop with the x-ray crystallography jokes and let’s have some respect!

A final note on the proteomic vs. the genomic. The nice thing about genomes is that when you finish one, you’ve finished it. Of course there will always be some quibbling around the edges (after all, this is science), but there appears to be a consensus on what a “finished” genome project should look like.

But a finished proteome? How do we know when we’re done? What do we need to catalogue? Sequence? Structure? Folding dynamics? Post-translational modifications? All of the above and then some? It’s still early days, but at this point proteomics surely looks like the gift that keeps on giving.

So for all the talk of post-genomic this and that, let’s remember that the reason we can be post-genomic is that we know what it means to finish a genome. And the tsunami of proteomics buzz notwithstanding, we’re in no danger of being post-proteomic anytime soon.


Dennis Waters, Chairman


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