Comparing complex protein networks in cells could lead to new insights in biology

Scientists have developed a way of studying cells by comparing how proteins inside them bind with one another.

The team, from Imperial College London, have developed an algorithm called MI-GRAAL that enables them to study protein-protein interaction (PPI) networks, where a cell’s proteins bind together in complex networks so that they can carry out their functions. These PPI networks are the building blocks of some of the most significant molecular processes, such as DNA replication, so comparing different PPI networks of different species could give new insights into biology.

In the study, the researchers used MI-GRAAL to compare the protein-protein interaction networks in a range of cell species, including yeast, a human cell and different strains of the herpes virus.

The team found that the PPI networks in the yeast cell and human cell were 78% identical, which surprised them as the species are at the opposite end of the evolutionary spectrum. However, they say their finding suggests that the cells in all life forms have a similar way of organising their internal structures.

The researchers also analysed different strains of the herpes virus and found that it was possible to see that they were from the same family and reconstruct their evolutionary relationships by looking at their PPI networks. Prior to this work, only comparison of DNA sequences had been able to reveal these kinds of patterns.

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