Open-source atlas of the human proteome goes live

Professor Mathias Uhlén

In 2003, a team of scientists and IT engineers set out to create a map of which proteins are found in each part of the body. Now, after committing more than 1,000 man years to the project, the team has released the Human Protein Atlas, an interactive map of the proteome containing 13 million annotated images.

The page for each protein is accompanied by images of tissue samples showing its concentration in the heart, liver and other parts of the body. Data on RNA and protein expression are also included. The creators of the open-source resource expect it to help drug developers and other researchers understand molecular variations between different types of tissue. Such knowledge has implications for the development of safe and effective drugs and diagnostics.

"There are about 600 proteins which are targets for all the pharmaceutical drugs, so you can say where are these targets located in the human body because that gives you indications about side effects," the project's leader, Professor Mathias Uhlén told BBC News. The headline finding to date is that 999 proteins are notably more active in testicular tissue than other parts of the body, making it the capital of the human proteome. The cerebral cortex trails with 318 highly active proteins.

Uhlén and his more than 100 collaborators generated the data by analyzing tissue samples donated by 360 healthy people. Slices of the samples were exposed to 17,000 different antibodies, each of which was linked to a staining molecule. When an antibody attached to part of a tissue it stained the sample, resulting in the 13 million images included in the atlas.

- read the press release
- here's the BBC article
- check out The Economist's take
- and NewScientist's coverage