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Proteomics Could Be the Next ‘Omics Frontier

By Simon Barnett, Analyst

The ‘omics revolution describes how technology is transforming our understanding of the fundamental building blocks of life. Starting with the Human Genome Project more than 20 years ago, next-generation DNA sequencing accelerated the genomics revolution. Thanks to recent research breakthroughs, next generation sequencing (NGS) instruments can study the transcriptome—the collection of RNA molecules in an organism. The natural next step for the ‘omics revolution, in our view, is proteomics—the analysis of proteins.

Proteomics involves the study of the three-dimensional structure and sequence of protein molecules. Improvements in mass-spectrometry and novel techniques like Cryo-EM are helping researchers identify the structure of proteins. A few weeks ago, Google’s DeepMind shocked the world with AlphaFold (v2), a neural-network-based algorithm capable of converting a protein sequence into an accurate structural prediction.

Absent still is the ability to develop high-throughput, high-accuracy next-generation protein sequencing (NGPS). In our view, NGPS is lagging behind NGS because of several engineering obstacles. Among them are:

  • The proteome could have 1,000,000 unique molecules while the transcriptome has 100,000 and the genome 20,000 (genes).
  • The proteome is changing constantly inside our bodies, both tissue-to-tissue and time-to-time, while the genome is fairly conserved.
  • Proteins include 20 unique molecules (amino acids) while DNA and RNA have four (4) bases.
  • Proteins often are less thermodynamically stable than RNA and DNA.
  • Nature has evolved natural enzymes, such as polymerases, that assist in DNA and RNA sequencing. Proteins do not have the same luxury.

Life sciences entrepreneur, Jonathan Rothberg, is exploring this new frontier. His company, Quantum SI (private), recently filed a patent that describes NGPS methods and compositions addressing many of these challenges. In our view, an instrument capable of sequencing proteins with single-molecule accuracy and high sample throughput – cost-effectively – could turbocharge the ‘omics revolution.

Catherine Wood, ARK Invest CEO, is a shareholder of 24/7 Wall St. LLC.