New Protein Map Outlines Trails Into Biological Terra Incognita

So naturally, somebody has made a protein map, and it’s already being hailed as a biological equivalent to the periodic table of elements (yet another map) in chemistry. Sung-Hou Kim, a chemist at UC Berkeley led the development of this map. An internationally recognized authority on protein structures, he expressed surprise at how closely the map, which is based solely on empirical data and a mathematical formula, mirrored the widely used Structural Classification System of Proteins (SCOP), one of many previous and ongoing attempts to classify proteins. “Our map shows that protein folds are broadly grouped into four different classes that correspond to the four classes of protein structures defined by SCOP,” Kim says. “Some have argued that there are really only three classes of protein fold structures but now we can mathematically prove there are four.” The 3-D map created by Kim and his colleagues is described in the February 17, 2003 edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “This is just the beginning, a first glimpse of the distribution of proteins. There is still a lot of mining and digging to do,” Kim said. “This is such a new way of conceptualizing the protein universe, some people have difficulty appreciating it. But others are fascinated by this global view of the protein universe.”