For the past 10 years – indeed, from its inception – Molecular & Cellular Proteomics, the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology’s only home-grown journal, has enjoyed an almost unique leadership position in the development of its field and the role that proteomics is playing in helping unravel the mysteries of biological systems.
Proteomics, which in general terms involves using unbiased methodology to look at proteins and the entities with which they interact as ensembles (or unfractionated mixtures) rather than as individual molecules, clearly began to emerge in the ’70s. The introduction of key mass spectrometric and array technologies greatly accelerated its development and the availability of genomic information aided it immensely. These enablers came rapidly to a head in the ’90s, and thus the launch of MCP in the summer of 2001 was timely in helping usher in the era of proteomics.
As with any paradigm shift – and proteomics clearly qualifies for such a designation (1) – there were exaggerated hopes, promises and predictions for breakthroughs that would materially change our understanding of human biology and improve our existence and well-being. Not surprisingly, much of this has not come to pass, and proteomics has not yet proved to be quite the panacea that was predicted, for example, in revolutionizing the practice of human medicine.
But to focus on these apparent shortcomings is looking through a glass darkly and ignores the very considerable successes that have occurred. Among other major advances, we now appreciate the extent to which virtually all proteins interact with multiple partners and the fact that protein post-translational modifications are orders of magnitude more extensive than we ever realized. Such significant shifts in basic biological concepts rarely have occurred as quickly as those of the past several years and would not have been possible without proteomic technology. Practical applications also have not been neglected.
Detractors of proteomics are wont to point out that very few new diagnostics have come out of proteomic biomarker identification analyses. While that is true, it is more a failure of germane research and development programs than proteomics. Indeed, literally thousands of biomarkers have been reported for a host of pathologies (and many of these in MCP), but they await validation before they can reach the marketplace.
Validation, however, is not the role or job of proteomics, and proteomics should not be blamed for the painfully slow movement of potential therapeutics and diagnostics through the pipeline. It is far too early to know what the long-term contributions of proteomics will be, but it is a very pessimistic individual who does not think that those contributions will be considerable.
MCP was founded on the principle that it would be proactive in advancing this exciting field, and it has been good to its promise. From the outset, it focused on the quality of data submitted to it and over several years developed guidelines for reporting peptide and protein identifications using mass spectrometry and clinically relevant data to insure that this information was correct and reproducible. Both guidelines are viewed widely as the standards in the field.