As the human genome contains an estimated 20,000 genes coding for proteins. As proteins are the body’s workers; tasking with the performing specific functions that are key to survival. The researchers finding that the human microbiome churns out thousands of tiny novel proteins. In fact, there’s mounting evidence that many aspects of our health are closely intertwining with the composition; and hardiness of our microscopic compatriots, though exactly how is still mostly unclear.
Despite their importance, there is a type of very small protein of fewer than 100 amino acids that is essential to understanding how living things work; and about which researchers know very little; since merely identifying them is a veritable technological challenge. As the study discovering that these microbial hitchhikers collectively known as the human microbiome are churning out tens of thousands of proteins so small that they’ve gone unnoticed in previous studies.
Protein performing specific functions
The proteins belong to more than 4,000 new biological families predicted to be involved in, among other processes, the warfare waged among different bacterial strains as they vie for primacy in coveted biological niches, the cell-to-cell communication between microbes and their unwitting hosts, and the critical day to day housekeeping duties that keep the bacteria happy and healthy. Because they are so small fewer than 50 amino acids in length it is likely the proteins fold into unique shapes; that represent previously unidentified biological building blocks.
If the shapes and functions of these proteins can be recreated in the lab; they could help researchers advance scientific understanding of how the microbiome affects human health and pave the way for new drug discovery. But the proteins’ miniscule size had made it difficult to identify; and study them using traditional methods. The study more likely to make an error than to guess correctly when trying to predict which bacterial DNA sequences contain these very small genes.
Small protein coding genes
This might be intimidating for the uninitiated to think too deeply about the vast numbers of bacteria; that live on and in each of us. They account for far more cells in and on the human body than actual human cells do. Yet these tiny passengers are rarely malicious. Instead, they help with our digestion, supplement our diet and generally keep us running at our peak. But in many cases, it’s been difficult to pick apart the molecular minutiae behind this partnership.
To tackle the problem, study deciding to compare potential small protein coding genes among many different microbes and samples. Those that were identified repeatedly in several species and samples were more likely to be true positives. When she applied the analysis to large data sets; Study finding not the hundreds of genes she and Bhatt had expected, but tens of thousands.