The control of biological processes rests at the level of individual proteins and their interactions with other proteins, small molecules, nucleic acids, and environmental stimuli. A thorough understanding of the activity of a biological system requires knowledge of the proteins involved in the process, including the regulation of protein expression, characterization of protein function, determination of protein structure, and identification of factors that regulate protein activity. The Argonne Biosciences Division is pioneering cutting-edge technologies and research approaches to identify and study the proteins involved in natural biological processes to discover functions with value to environmental stewardship, energy production, climate management, and human health.
Developments in genome- and even community-scale DNA sequencing, high-throughput analytical tools, and computing technology have made feasible the genome-wide analysis of protein function. Construction of complete functional maps of cellular behavior now appears to be achievable. Functional analysis of the thousands of proteins and other macromolecules needed for a comprehensive analysis of even the simplest prokaryote is a significant technological challenge that will require substantial enhancement of currently available experimental and computational capabilities. The amount of data needed to functionally characterize an organism greatly exceeds that required to sequence its genome. Furthermore, unlike genome sequencing, functional analysis requires multiple high-throughput experimental technologies and novel computational approaches.
Nevertheless, the comprehensive characterization of protein function and the discovery of novel protein functions through the analysis of natural processes has huge potential payoffs, providing the basis for developing entirely new strategies for modulating cellular activities and engineering novel cellular capabilities. These opportunities can provide the basis for novel solutions to problems associated with the DOE science mission, including development of novel strategies for bioremediation, bioenergy production, and carbon management. More broadly, the resulting knowledge and technical capabilities will enable major benefits for environmental stewardship, human health, and national economic productivity.