Net­work sci­en­tists at North­eastern Uni­ver­sity have col­lab­o­rated with an inter­dis­ci­pli­nary team of col­leagues in cell biology and inter­ac­tive data acqui­si­tion to create the first large-​​scale map of a plant’s pro­tein network.

The results of the study were pub­lished in the July 29 issue of Sci­ence magazine.

The team’s research find­ings — which could even­tu­ally be applied to treating human dis­eases, such as cancer — shed light on the inter­ac­tions among pro­teins in Ara­bidopsis thaliana, which serves as a model organism in plant biology.

Cre­ating this map is a sig­nif­i­cant building block to under­standing plants in gen­eral and learning more about the bio­log­ical sim­i­lar­i­ties between plants and ani­mals,” said world-​​renowned net­work sci­en­tist Albert-​​László Barabási, a Dis­tin­guished Pro­fessor of Physics with joint appoint­ments in biology and the Col­lege of Com­puter and Infor­ma­tion Sci­ence. Barabási is also the founding director of Northeastern’s world-​​leading Center for Com­plex Net­work Research.

Barabási, and three post­doc­toral research asso­ciates in his lab — Yong-​​Yeol Ahn, Gourab Ghoshal and Sab­rina Rabello — were part of the project’s bioin­for­matics and analysis group. Researchers at Har­vard Med­ical School, the Dana-​​Farber Cancer Insti­tute, the Salk Insti­tute for Bio­log­ical Studies, the United States Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture and the Depart­ment of Com­puting at Impe­rial Col­lege in London also con­tributed to the study.

Northeastern’s con­tri­bu­tion to the paper builds upon ear­lier research fea­tured in a June 2010 issue of Nature mag­a­zine, in which post­doc­toral research asso­ciates in Barabási’s lab devel­oped a math­e­mat­ical algo­rithm to iden­tify com­mu­ni­ties in com­plex net­works, including major bio­log­ical net­works and large-​​scale social networks.

In this case, Barabási and his col­leagues used the algo­rithm to comb the map for com­mu­ni­ties of inter­con­nected pro­teins that share in the same bio­log­ical func­tion. Researchers found more than two-​​dozen such communities.

The find­ings offer researchers a sneak peak at the evo­lu­tionary process within net­works of plant pro­teins. As Barabási put it, “The com­mu­ni­ties were not random and each had a dom­i­nant func­tion that did not emerge by chance.”

In June, Barabási was hon­ored with the Insti­tute for Sci­en­tific Inter­change Foundation’s 2011 Lagrange-​​CRT Foun­da­tion Prize for his body of research on com­plex net­works in nat­ural, social and tech­no­log­ical systems.

View selected pub­li­ca­tions of Albert-​​László Barabási in IRis, Northeastern’s dig­ital archive.