Above left: An undergraduate student working on protein separation. Above right: Culture cabinet for extremophile bacteria.
Nearly every living cell in the body contains the same basic genetic information, yet there is a wide range of very different cell phenotypes. It is therefore important to have some grasp of what the cell is actually doing, rather than have a list of all the things its genetic makeup might allow it to do under other circumstances.
The most accurate indication of what the cell is doing is likely to be reflected in its proteome. This is the sum of the proteins in the cell and those actually being manufactured by the cell. Many of these proteins are effective in very small concentrations, and are incredibly difficult to analyse accurately, leading to the use of protein indicators such as mRNA, which can be amplified to detectable concentrations in the laboratory.
Considerable research effort is ongoing into proteomics at Sheffield. This includes the development of new techniques to allow us to investigate the proteome of a cell in greater detail and with greater ease.
Our key objectives are broad and include engineering tissues for therapeutic uses. Using proteomics we can expect a far more precise understanding from the ability to monitor a cell’s behaviour at the molecular level, including a more fundamental understanding of how stem cells differentiate for such purposes.
One of the lead groups at Sheffield is concerned with proteomics for bio-engineering, in particular the production of value added chemicals and materials by extremophile organisms in bio-reactors. While the objectives of this research are different, the methodologies being developed are very relevant to studies on human cell and tissue cultures.
Work in this area necessitates an ability to engineer the organism and its growth conditions to optimise the product mix. This work employs transcriptional analysis and proteomics in parallel to provide a deeper mechanistic understanding of the production process. As with human cells, many bugs work best if attached to surfaces, which can make scale up of the process difficult, and results in common approaches in the two fields.
This work is being conducted within ChELSI (Chemical Engineering at the Life Science Interface) where further information can be found.