Protein arrays are the least developed of the emerging biochip technologies and very likely the most complex. Every gene codes for at least one and often many proteins, the macromolecules that carry out the activities necessary for life. While current estimates of the number of human genes range from 30,000 to 100,000 (with about 10,000 of them already mapped), the number of proteins encoded by those genes may number in the millions. Most cellular development and other life functions result from the myriad interactions of proteins, and most disease and other disorders result when those interactions go awry.

That is why a paper in the September 14 issue of Science by Michael Snyder, Ph.D., professor and chair of molecular, cellular and developmental biology, and colleagues attracted broad interest. They reported successful development of a chip that held virtually all 6,200 proteins of yeast on a single microarray. No array had ever held the complete proteome of an organism before. While the technology is still in development, many fundamental protein interactions, some shared with humans, can now be studied in a global manner, just as can the genes that code for proteins. A new company, Protometrix Inc., was founded in Guilford, Conn., based on Snyder’s work with proteome chips.

Snyder’s team is now attempting to create a human proteome chip. He also plans to use proteome chips in his own research at Yale’s new Center of Excellence in Genomic Science, which he directs. The National Human Genome Research Institute awarded Yale a $15 million, five-year grant this fall to search for gene and protein function. Yale was one of only three recipients of the awards. (Two separate centers at the University of Washington at Seattle received the other grants.)